Tech & Rights

18 Measures to Fight Terrorism: Belgium Escalates Response, But at What Cost?

Following the Paris attacks, the Belgian government announced the adoption of 18 measures to fight against terrorism, but human rights groups say they are a threat to our freedoms.

by David Morelli
Image: Tijl Vercaemer - Flickr/CC content
If the fight against terrorism is necessary - the state has the obligation to ensure public safety of citizens - the legitimate and necessary fight can not, under the guise of a hypothetical increase in security, be done to the detriment of fundamental freedoms inherent of any democratic state.

The violation of fundamental rights is one of the main problems of these measures, according to the analysis conducted by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the League of Human Rights (LDH).

The night searchers

These measures, such those permitting the electronic surveillance of persons suspected of terrorism, give reason to fear a dangerous appropriation of the judiciary by the executive. The potential of undermining the principle of separation of powers worries us and is not the reflection of a healthy democracy.

LDH also found that some of the 18 measures could constitute major impediments to the respect of fundamental rights. Among these is the extension of 24 to 72 hours of police custody. This measure, requiring a constitutional amendment, is useless given the scarcity of the extension to 48 hours, currently legally possible.

The ability to conduct searches of property by night affects the privacy of not only presumed-innocent suspects, but also that of their families and children, for whom such a search would be traumatic. This measure needs more evidence of being necessary, keeping in mind that night raids are already used on the basis of flagrante delicto, for drugs violations, or on the basis of the consent of concerned individuals.

Harvesting information

Another finding: many measures (including systematic control of the registration of all passengers in international transport, registration of car number plates, ending the anonymity of prepaid GSM cards) allow the government to control the population massively.

Without going into the details of their potential and their effectiveness (see the in-depth analysis for more), LDH and FIDH find that the government, despite past experience and expert findings, continues to increase the harvest of information rather than focusing on the quality, to concentrate controls on those who pose real security issues or strengthen, at local, human intelligence.

To check the entire world is absurd, ineffective and counterproductive. Too much information kills information.

Democratic failure?

Finally, some measures, such as strengthening police checks at borders or the expulsion of preachers of hate, go beyond legitimate responses to the attacks. Are these measures a "Belgian Patriot Act"? No, certainly not.

But it is clear from the analysis that this impression, beyond the doubts of LDH and FIDH about the usefulness or effectiveness of some of the new measures, the government doesn't seem want to address terrorism where it is most complex: addressing the financial backing that allows it to happen (bank secrecy, tax havens, contracts with Saudi Arabia, etc.).

An exclusively repressive response to terrorism is doomed to failure. The security escalation as a political priority sounds like a confession of democratic failure.