We are giving up too many freedoms because of the threat posed by a tiny number of people says Joyce McMillan
Last week in Barcelona, it happened again . There was a terror attack, involving a van driven at speed into an unsuspecting crowd; 14 people died . Within 24 hours, the people of Barcelona were gathering on the streets, singing and chanting their defiance, saying that they were not – and are not – afraid; it s the same reaction to terrorism that we see in great multicultural cities across the world, from Paris and Berlin to London, Manchester and Boston . And as in all those other cities, people said that terrorism would not be allowed to change their way of life; they would party on without fear, and not permit themselves to be cowed by tiny groups of terrorists. Yet we must, when we go through the ritual of saying this, be increasingly conscious that in most countries of the west, what we say is not true . We have allowed ourselves to be changed by the threat of terrorism, since the horrifying attack on New York in 2001; and the very fabric of our cities is beginning to show it . Here in Edinburgh, this year – after the attacks in London and Manchester this spring – festival crowds are, for the first time, experiencing bag searches in many venues, the sight of tank-trap-like barriers on the High Street, and the occasional presence of armed police on the streets . Public buildings in London, and our own Scottish Parliament here in Edinburgh, are increasingly surrounded by ugly ranks of traffic bollards and blast-proof walls; and from time to time, major events are simply cancelled outright, as in Rotterdam this week, following explicit terrorist threats. And all this is to say nothing of the less visible but even more significant electronic surveillance state that we have allowed to grow up over the last 16 years, with millions of law-abiding citizens being put on watch-lists without evidence or redress, on suspicion of having once signed an online petition, or gone to a demonstration .
To call this process insidious is to understate the case; these days, anyone who dissents from the norms and systems of our evidently flawed society to the extent of actually doing something about it runs the risk of being categorised, in UK security terms, as a potential domestic insurgent . Yet there is, to put it bluntly, very little evidence that terrorism in the west represents a threat that justifies social, cultural and physical change on this scale . In the 16 years since 2001, well under a thousand people have died in terror attacks across Europe, fewer than a hundred a year, whereas 300 times as many die in road traffic accidents . And although the security establishment constantly tells us of the large number of terror attacks they prevent, thanks to tight surveillance rules, there is surely a limit to how much of such information any thinking citizen should be expected to take entirely on trust, given the huge vested financial interests involved in maintaining a heightened sense of threat. Add to all these factors the desperate plight of all public authorities in a risk-averse age, faced with the inevitability of legal action and huge penalties if they fail to implement recommended security measures and lives are lost as a result, and you have a situation where over-reaction to the threat of terrorism becomes almost inevitable . All the pressure is on the side of expensive and obvious security measures, and on the lavish demonstration that the authorities have made the safety of the public their absolute priority ; although in truth, if the safety of the public was an absolute priority , we would not only ban motor transport, but ensure that no-one ever got out of bed in the morning. In the real world, in other words, we make constant calculations of the benefits and risks of whatever action we undertake, even if only crossing the road to buy a coffee . In the wrong circumatances, motor vehicles kill; but we value the freedom they bring us so much that we tolerate an annual death toll on the scale of a 9/11 attack in Britain every year. Yet when it comes to our response to terrorism, those mechanisms for calculating risk and benefit seem to have entirely broken down .
The risk of continuing to live our lives without bag searches and street barriers and relentless online surveillance is deemed too great even to contemplate; whereas the unseen but huge benefits of living in a civil society – where security is not a major industry, where people enjoy privacy and freedom of movement without intrusion, and where our children are not constantly given the false, disempowering and reactionary impression that all public space is dangerous and all strangers a source of threat – are never weighed in the balance at all. It therefore seems to me obvious that we now need to call a halt to the the growth of terrorism-related security-state thinking, in the UK and elsewhere, and begin a much more mature conversation about the freedoms and decencies we are so willingly giving up in order to meet what is by any normal measure a small threat, posed by a tiny minority of citizens . For if the growth of such attitudes and systems is undesirable in itself, the reasons why we have been so tolerant of it are also deeply disturbing, and a serious capitulation – despite our fine words – to those who want to see a society undermined by division, hatred, and mutual mistrust between communities . At the Edinburgh Festival this year, there are not only barriers in the streets, and some cops carrying guns. There are also hundreds of very angry young performers, speaking in the voices of communities that feel excluded and demonised by an official and media culture that too often places the heavy hand of security above the civic peace, fairness and inclusion that really keeps us safe .
Those who sow the seeds of a security state, in other words, inevitably reap the whirlwind of anger from those they insult, harass and exclude; and it s now beyond time for those of us who truly care for long-term peace and harmony to call a halt to our ever more pervasive security culture, and to begin to questions its terms.
Published: 12:15 Saturday 12 August 2017
Security is under review after an amateur photographer managed to land a drone on the deck of Britain s newest aircraft carrier. The 70,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth – the largest warship in the Royal Navy – was docked in Invergordon in the Highlands when the drone was flown close to the carrier last month. The tiny aircraft then landed itself on the deck of the 3 billion vessel after sensing a high wind risk. The anonymous photographer – a member of the Black Isle Images amateur photography group – said he was surprised to have been unchallenged, even when he reported the incident to armed guards at the dock. The drone pilot told BBC Scotland: I could have carried two kilos of Semtex and left it on the deck. I could have been anybody . It was like a ghost ship.
READ MORE: 3bn HMS Queen Elizabeth vulnerable to low-cost missiles 1 The photographer took the oppportunity to take footage of the new aircraft carrier when it arrived in Invergordon last month, piloting his DJI Phantom drone from the other side of the Cromarty Firth. The drone was equiped with anti-crash sensors which automatically land the aircraft if it is in danger.
The non-slip coating of the carrier s deck allowed the drone – which usually avoids steel structures – to touch down . The drone pilot then took a photograph and managed to take off again. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: We take the security of HMS Queen Elizabeth very seriously.
This incident has been reported to Police Scotland, an investigation is under way and we stepped up our security measures in light of it.
A fast-growing Edinburgh-based fintech company aims to uncover key concerns around the evolving cyber threat landscape in Scotland at an event on the sector being held in Glasgow this week. The Future of Cyber Security Scotland Conference is taking place on Thursday and issues lined up for discussion include reducing risk and ensuring compliance, data breaches on the so-called dark web and encouraging a better gender balance in the industry. Among speakers and panellists are Don Randall, former head of security and chief information security officer of the Bank of England, and Alisdair Matheson, partner at law firm Brodies. Also on the list is Stephen Budd, product manager specialising in data solutions at cyber security specialist ZoneFox, a spin-out from Edinburgh Napier University. The firm s founder and chief executive Jamie Graves told Scotland on Sunday: As a Scottish company, I am delighted that we are able to partner with the conference to share knowledge across the cyber community in Scotland and educate on the best strategies and technologies to identify threats and reduce risk. Failure to protect sensitive information in the current business climate has serious consequences from reputational damage to huge financial loss, to the fallout for individuals that comes with the leak of their personal information. The firm will discuss whether Scotland is ready for general data protection regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in 2018 and will impose strict new rules on the way organisations collect, store and use personal data.
A recent study found that nearly half of UK firms were not ready for it coming into effect. Graves added that with the forthcoming GDPR, pressure has never been so high on organisations to safeguard their data and monitor its movement. As well as the increasing amount of state attacks and large organisations being breached, there have never been more attacks on businesses by cyber-criminals than we are seeing today, but, worryingly, knowledge and awareness about how to prevent such attacks is still very low. ZoneFox will present to delegates on the likes of how user behaviour analytics and machine learning can highlight threats to an organisation before they turn into incidents . Police Scotland, one of the conference s backers, said this month that there have been 34 ransomware attacks in Scotland in the past year, including 13 on NHS health boards on 13 May.
The conference s organiser is OSP Security Professionals, which last year took the Global Security & Cyber summit to Aberdeen, where it was predicted that oil and gas and the NHS were perfect targets for cyber hacks .