The London Bridge Attack Is Evidence We DON'T Need New Internet Surveillance Laws

By James O Malley on at

"Never let a good crisis go to waste", is an apocryphal quote attributed to Winston Churchill. Real or not, it does neatly describe Theresa May's reaction to the latest London terrorist attack.

Yesterday morning, following the tragedy on London Bridge, Theresa May said "enough is enough", and launched into a campaign speech, further advocating for greater regulation and control of the internet. This is something that is already in the Conservative manifesto. On Friday, if the election goes as expected, she'll be able to start implementing it, with an even bigger mandate to do so.

There's just one problem: The London Bridge terrorist attack doesn't actually make the case for the draconian measures she wants to take, nor does it justify previous draconian moves made by government to surveil each and every one of us. In fact, it is evidence that we don't need new surveillance laws.

Scary New Powers For Government

The bulk collection of all our digital data was recently legitimated in the Investigatory Powers Act, which entered into law at the end of last year (though has been subject to judicial challenges since). This is where the government would hoover up data on literally everything we do online, so it can have a look through what everyone is up to.

The next digital rights fight appears to be fighting the government's desire to ban encrypted communications, or against it forcing tech companies to build back-doors for government snoopers to read all of our digital communications. You can read here why this is technically illiterate and an utterly insane idea here.

The rationale for both superficially sounds simple: These powers should enable the government to identify terrorists.

But here's the thing: We don't need these insane draconian rules to find terrorists and potential terrorists.

We Already Know Who The Terrorists Are

It's already starting to emerge that the London Bridge attackers didn't appear out of nowhere, and they had already been identified as Jihadis. Yesterday, the BBC Asian Network interviewed one man who said he knew one of the terrorists, and had actually phoned the anti-terrorism hotline about him, once he feared that he had been radicalised.

The bad news for racists too is that the guy who attempted to dob in one of the attacks appears to be Muslim.

Additionally, in case that hadn't given the security services enough of a heads-up, one of the terrorists was reportedly shown on TV waving an ISIS flag in a park, in a Channel 4 documentary about British Jihadis. The same report also reckons that two years prior, police were warned that he was trying to radicalise children in a local park too.

Now, I'm not an anti-terrorism officer, but I would say that literally waving an ISIS flag on TV could be some indication that this guy is worth watching?

This case is far from unique: In what has become known as Story's Law, after every terrorist incident, it inevitably emerges that the perpetrator was already on the radar of the security services.

The Manchester attacker was already flagged with authorities.

The April 20th Champs Elysee attacker, who killed a policeman, was already known to French authorities.

The 8th April Stockholm truck attacker was already known to authorities.

The Westminster attacker was already known to MI5.

The Paris Orly Airport attacker was previously known to authorities.

The Berlin Christmas Market attacker was previously investigated over an earlier terror plot.

And so on - I could keep going.

We Don't Need New Draconian Surveillance Laws

What this means is that whatever powers the security services already have appear to be working. The problem is not a lack of information - they are clearly already sniffing around in the right places. It isn't more information they need - they just need to process it better.

We don't need bulk surveillance, we don't need to break the security backbone of the internet, and we don't need to infringe on the civil liberties and the privacy of millions of people - the counter-terrorism authorities already know who to watch.

London Bridge, Manchester and the recent attacks are not justifications for draconian new laws. If anything, they are further evidence that we don't need them.

James O'Malley is Interim Editor of Gizmodo UK and tweets as @Psythor.