The AllAfrica news aggregator brings a doubly unfortunate report from Kenya. First, the Kenya Communications Commission “will not back down from plans” to monitor e-mail and other Internet traffic. More disturbing is the rationale:
“The war on terror has compelled the world to intrude into personal privacy. There is a very thin line between privacy and security.”
The angry high-pitched whir you’re hearing is Ben Franklin spinning in his grave:
“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”
If Franklin were here he’d put his warning in today’s terms: Every encroachment on liberty and privacy — from TSA gropings in New York to monitored e-mail in Nairobi — is a victory for the terrorists. It’s our free and open society that’s the true target of the extremists, and fear-mongering purveyors of censorship and surveillance are simply playing into their hands.
Beyond security from terrorism, the Kenyan regulators further justify their counterproductive policy on economic grounds, “to reap the benefits of the Internet and information resources”. Here we have a stunning display of either hypocrisy or ignorance. The benefits of the Internet derive from the unfiltered and open flow of information among billions of connected communicators. Subjecting Internet traffic to government supervision is a far more dangerous attack on “the benefits of the Internet” than any virus or worm. The quote that best captures this policy post-dates Franklin by 250 years: “We had to destroy the village to save it.”
Unfortunately, such ill-conceived policies are not limited to Kenya. Governments around the world are rushing to trade vital freedom for illusory security, the power of openness for the comfort of control. Citizens of those governments would do well to remember yet another quote:
“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”