Several of his conclusions seem correspondingly superficial. It can be argued that a handful of EU states have become “surveillance” societies, but this is because of increased electronic communications, a greater capability to intercept these and some serious threats to our political and social fabric, many of which are IT generated. But it’s simply not true that everyone is being watched all the time. Intelligence agencies couldn’t do this even if they wanted to. As well as that, “surveillance” is itself now a loaded term.
Mathiesen downplays the threat of Islamic terrorism, claiming that only three out of 249 terrorist plots in the EU in 2010 were Islamist in origin. This is a bizarre finding, seeing that the head of Britain’s MI5 internal security agency said last October that there were at that time “thousands of Islamists” who saw Britain as a “legitimate target”. Elsewhere, he describes terrorism as a “relatively small threat compared with reckless driving”. When Mathiesen insists that surveillance does not prevent terrorism he ignores the fact that intelligence-led activity has disrupted many plots, notably the planned 2006 attack on transatlantic aircraft, and so has saved many lives. No mention here of the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (INTCEN or SITCEN), and no account of Europol’s work or that of the Club de Berne, the EU members’ intelligence sharing forum that includes Switzerland and Norway.
Edward Snowden’s revelations came after this book’s publication, so PRISM and TEMPORA are not found here, but Mathiesen like many others was aware of the NSA’s vast reach. By failing to make it clear that communications have been subject to interception for more than a hundred years, or that this has averted national catastrophes on many occasions since 1939 – Bletchley Park's wartime work receives no mention – the insistence that interception is just the outcome of “moral panic”, a modern version of the medieval “witch-hunt”, instead of a rational response to threats, rings hollow.
His conclusion is that we should not seek to defend ourselves from terrorism with “arguments” (“the best arguments win and we have the best arguments”) and that “we” (he means Norwegians) should not look to the EU or the U.S. for guidance on national security. Everyone can agree that those who intercept data to keep us safe should be required to act lawfully and be accountable. But to claim that “surveillance” undermines our civil liberties when its task is in fact to uphold them is getting things the wrong way round.