It is of little surprise to many of us that after every terrorist attack almost every government responds with new and renewed policies for enhanced powers. What is remarkable, however, is that we are increasingly seeing resistance and debate regarding these policies. In this talk I will review some of the highlights of these policy processes, where I will point to the successful strategies that some have used to promote debate and deliberation and to even overturn problematic policies.
As EPIC's and Privacy International's 'Privacy and Human Rights' reports, in the aftermath of September 11, countries and international institutions around the world developed rushed policies. The most well-known act was of course the USA-PATRIOT Act, passed after limited discussion and very little dissent. Other countries passed laws with even less discussion and quieter dissent, however. I would bet good money that most people probably could not even name the laws passed in their own countries after September 2001. International institutions such as the Council of Europe, the UN Security Council, amongst others all rushed forward with declarations and conventions that even fewer can name.
We may say that this was just a rash response to 9/11. In many circumstances, this has not changed. Most recently, the REAL-ID Act was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate after it was appended to a funding bill for the war in Iraq and Tsunami relief. The U.S. implemented surveillance systems that have received limited public scrutiny, such as the student information system SEVIS; the rights-corrosive US-VISIT system of which we hear little other than the great accolades of having caught criminals but not its inevitable failures; and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act that is transforming borders around the world is hardly known or understood. These are not proud moments of an open society.
Focussing on these democratic disasters is not the purpose of this talk. There have been many 'positive' developments and we can learn equally from these. Public knowledge is on the increase. Consider the UK ID card which was introduced in 2004 as having 80% public approval rating; within months this was reported to have dropped to 65% and before the July 2005 bombings it was reported as low as 45%. A recent survey on the USA-PATRIOT Act from the University of Connecticut found that less than 60 percent of those who know the intent of the law support it, compared with 70 percent who do not know its intent. The survey of 802 adults also found that only 14 percent of those polled supported all the major provisions of the law when asked about them in detail.
We can also look to laws that have encountered significant opposition and those that have been repealed. For instance data retention law in Argentina has been temporarily placed on hold. Peru's highest court struck down a wide range of laws that, in the 1990s, were used to control domestic terrorist groups, resulting in the release. The Hong Kong administration faced 500,000 people marching on the streets against modifications to the Basic Law to harmonize with mainland China's lists of terror-groups. The new Indian Government promised to and did repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, passed after the shootings at its Parliament. The European Parliament moved to prevent transfers of passenger data to the United States. The European Commission and the European Parliament is continuing a form of resistance against communications data retention, and the Parliament opposed passenger data transfers. The passenger pre-screening system in the U.S. encountered significant privacy and technology problems. Even industry has opposed some of these initiatives.
Having watched these policy processes, sometimes at a distance other times on the front line, I can comment on some of the more interesting strategies that were used to counter over-reaching anti-terror policies. We can learn from these and promote them in other countries and policy processes.