British Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has been saying some worrisome things about terrorism, security, and civil liberties. He is backing a plan to create a massive database of mobile and internet communications, for purposes of fighting terrorism. One worrisome aspect is the suggestion that it would be used to deal with “terrorists or criminals.” Technologies initially justified as an extreme measure necessary to fight terrorism will always spread to more banal uses, with a greater scope for abuses.
Indeed, that is the biggest issue that needs to be weighed against the possible terror-fighting capacity of such databases. They will inevitably be abused. Furthermore, governments are far more dangerous than terrorists, both when they are acting in malicious ways and when they are trying to be benign. Modern history certainly demonstrates that, while the power of terrorists to inflict harm is considerable, the ability of states to do so is extreme.