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PRIVACY

Free speech threatened, but not by Islamists

The Danish government introduced a new anti-terror package following the Copenhagen shootings, but internet privacy advocate Henrik Chulu argues that privacy restrictions will limit the free speech that politicians say they want to defend.

Free speech threatened, but not by Islamists
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced new anti-terror messages last week. Photo: Simon Skipper/Scanpix
In everyday language, free speech means that you have the ability to say whatever you what with the understanding that you can face legal punishment if what you say violates the rights of others: for example through libel, copyright infringement, etc. 
 
Different countries have different limits on the freedom of expression. I know of no place where it is absolute. Perjury, for example, is universally frowned upon.
 
Free speech exists so that the state cannot silence its critics, who are free to scrutinize the powers that be and criticize them with the the goal of keeping those who exercise power on the straight and narrow, thus assuring the rights of the rest of us. 
 
Another right that is equally important to the freedom of expression is the right to privacy. Like freedom of expression, the right to privacy exists to ensure a balance of power between the state and the individual. If there is a reasonable suspicion that you are engaging in something criminal, a court can give the police the authority to monitor your behaviour and communications. 
 
In the old days, that meant that they could ransack your home, open your mail and tap your telephone. But today it means that they can set up nearly invisible microphones and cameras, listen in on all the phones you are likely to call, instal spyware on your computer or phone, read your emails and monitor your internet traffic. 
 
Today, the police don’t even have to go to much effort to get access to your private life, as you have most likely voluntarily subjected yourself to constant surveillance from the likes of Google, Facebook and others. You live surrounded by sensors and all of your electronic communication is automatically tapped and collected in huge databases that police can access with a court order.
 
But for some politicians, who would hate to see a useful crisis go to waste, the already vast abilities of the police to do their jobs is not enough. The chorus is singing for more. After all, no one wants to appear “soft on terror”.
 
In the rush to defend free speech, politicians are further dismantling the right to privacy. The problem however is that free speech and privacy are not “values” that should be defended, but rather tools (or weapons, if you will) to ensure a balance of power between the individual and the state. And they are related. 
 
Without the strong protection of privacy, freedom of expression is nearly useless. Or to put it another way: a restriction on privacy is in itself a restriction on free speech. Privacy is the foundation, free speech is the structure. 
 
Statements don’t arise out of nowhere within an individual’s thoughts and then fly directly out into the public sphere to fascinate, infuriate or speak truth to power. They are absorbed and shaped in the peace of library halls and the corners of the internet, they are studied in private conversations, tested through back channels and often (although not always in politics) destroyed due to a lack of logic, evidence or relevance. 
 
The freedom to speak and think in peace is what allows free expression to be used effectively as it is intended: to confront state power verbally so that it doesn’t trample upon those rights that we as citizens have fought so hard for over the past century and a half – e.g. women’s suffrage, the right to unemployment benefits, etc. 
 
The insistence of politicians to sacrifice citizens’ privacy upon the flames of free speech is a far bigger threat than any militant Islamist who finds a cartoon offensive. It is a stab in the back of free speech. I do not doubt that their basic intentions are good: they want to protect the public. But the road to hell is, as we all know, paved by naive fools with good intentions. 
 
Henrik ChuluHenrik Chulu is the co-founder of Bitbureauet, an independent internet think-tank. This column was originally published in Danish at frikultur.dk and has been translated and republished under the Creative Commons Attribution license. 
 

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TERRORISM

Denmark strips dual national of citizenship after terror conviction

A court in Denmark jailed a dual Danish-Turkish national for 10 years on Tuesday and stripped him of his citizenship for "planning a terrorist attack".

Denmark strips dual national of citizenship after terror conviction
The court at Frederiksberg ruled a 24-year-old man must be stripped of his Danish citizenship following a conviction on terrorism charges. Photo: Ólafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

The 24-year-old — who was not named by the court — will serve his prison sentence in Denmark, but will then be deported to Turkey upon release, the court in Frederiksberg said in a statement.

The man, a native of Copenhagen, had been under surveillance by the intelligence services and was arrested in April 2020 immediately after purchasing a gun and ammunition. 

The police had found a flag of the Islamic State group in his home. 

Prosecutors had demanded a jail term of 12 years and had charged him with purchasing weapons and ammunition “with the intent of perpetrating one or more terrorist attacks”.

The potential targets were not revealed.

After the man is deported, he will be banned for life from entering Danish territory. 

“I think he’s been in Turkey fewer times than many other Danish people,” his lawyer, Rolf Gregersen, told the court.

“Denmark must take responsibility for him once he was awarded Danish citizenship. They can’t just stick a postage stamp on his back and send him on his way,” the lawyer was quoted by the Danish news agency Ritzau as saying. 

The Danish intelligence services, which have foiled a number of attacks in recent years, categorise the risk of an attack against Denmark as “serious”, six years after an Islamist-motivated double attack in Copenhagen left two people dead.

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