[TheGuardian] France and the UK are on the edge of Kafkaesque surveillance

Surveillance laws being debated around the world should avoid the recent fate of the French – and the scorn of Franz Kafka. [...]

The French case shows that the long-cherished secrecy of communications – a notion dating at least as far back as the French Revolution – has no constitutional priority. It shows the gripping appeal of laws that, in Kafka’s terms, provide a false sense of security and leave the people – particularly people in certain communities – helplessly exposed. On Sunday 26 July, the law came into effect. [...]

Effective intelligence is critical to the challenges we face. But that intelligence must be targeted, and it must be subject to due process, transparency and meaningful independent oversight. Measures that inhibit all of our freedoms must be subject to open, fair, evidenced-based debate, rather than cynical emergency procedures. And even if an individual is prepared to surrender all privacy in order to accept a minute reduction in risk of a catastrophic event, what safeguards are in place to prevent even greater catastrophes, in the hands of a state, oft-captured and oft-brutal, knowing and seeing all?

The tools that France and Britain are currently seeking are too blunt and intrusive for modern democracies. They stifle dissent with the same chilling turn uttered by Robespierre, one of the main leaders of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution in condemning his former friend and close ally Danton to the guillotine for alleged counter-revolutionary activities: “anyone who trembles at this moment is guilty; for innocence never fears public surveillance”. [...]