We Said Vague Laws Against "Terror" Would Be Used To Silence Journalism On The Path To Totalitarianism. This Was The Last Warning Bell.

With Glenn Greenwald’s partner being harassed by security forces at Heathrow, the last warning bell for totalitarianism has chimed. For upwards of a decade, activists of the Pirate Party have been warning that laws that are marketed to the public as being “against terror” or “against child pornography” are so vague and so full of exceptions to due process that they don’t make sense if they’re not actually targeted at creating a totalitarian society. With family members of reporters taken away for detention and harassment, the last warning bell has gone off – there will not be another bell before they come for me and you.

David Miranda, the partner of the journalist who has been publishing and revealing the extent of the NSA’s and GCHQ’s pervasive surveillance, was detained yesterday at Heathrow for pure harassment reasons. This is the last warning bell of encroaching totalitarianism. Meanwhile, the same security forces demanded that the newspaper in question ceased reporting on the surveillance, even to the point of destroying their laptops.

The Prime Chancellor of Britain, David Sutler Cameron, was informed of this detention and harassment before it happened. That simple fact says way too much of what’s going on, right here, right now.

When societies turn fascist and totalitarian, things happen in a certain order. The first is that pervasive, sweeping, and vague powers are given to police and security forces using some bullshit excuse. Here in the West, those excuses have been child abuse imagery and terrorism. Reporters have been doing a terrible job at showing how those laws actually promote child abuse and are ridiculously badly prioritized (more than 100 times as many people die from falling down staircases than from terrorism).

But those laws did something else, and if history is a guide, did so on purpose. They eliminated the right, indeed the theoretical possibility, of reporters to protect their sources. With the advent of the Data Retention Directive in the EU, freedom of the press was essentially abolished – all leaks would be traceable after that point. And yet, practically no reporters spoke up about it. So effective was the government fear campaign using the bogeymen du jour. (In the 1950s, it would not have been child porn and terror, but communism.)

The laws allowed for sources to be harassed, and for reporters to be harassed. Looking at the many examples of history, that is the next thing that happens as a society goes totalitarian.

The last visible thing that happens as a society goes fascist totalitarian is that the reporters with an ability to report on the developments are harassed and detained. After that, reports go silent. This was the canary in the coal mine, this was the last warning bell. There will be no more warnings after this, only silence, before the same forces one day come for you. And then, it is too late.

Meanwhile, it seems people do not understand the ramifications of all their internet traffic being wiretapped. It’s as close to hostile mind reading as you can get. Consider the fact that the first one to know if you’re diagnosed with a strange disease, it used to be that the first in the world to know (before your friends and family) was Google. Now it’s not Google, but the security agents. That is not theory, that is the state of current affairs. These security forces don’t just wiretap your phone calls – they know what newspapers you read, what articles you read in them, for how long, in what order. They know every piece of information you are looking for. Why don’t people see that this is a recipe for totalitarianism?

As Consumer Watchdog sounded a false alarm about GMail the other week and its users’ expectation of privacy, it turned out that Consumer Watchdog didn’t understand that a mail server must necessarily process e-mail in order to display it to the users. This is a disastrously low understanding of the most basic information security: who can see your private information? Do they understand that when you enter your ATM PIN, you are giving your PIN to the creator of the ATM’s program code? I’ll have to conclude, “probably not”.

And the people who don’t understand that every machine that sees their private information has an owner that also sees their private information, they are going to be robbed naked of their most intimate details without even knowing it. This would not be a problem if they weren’t the overwhelming majority, and as a result, alarm bells from people who do understand basic information security have not been taken seriously.

This is not new, just depressing.

Meanwhile, in the Berlin winter of 1932, families were still going skating in the park on weekends. Their lovely country, having the most progressive capital in the West with its charming cabarets, could not conceivably go down the dark path some eccentrics were doomglooming about.

I cannot begin to describe my frustration as I was reading a proposed law aloud to people in the streets of Stockholm. The proposed law would abolish any right to secrecy of correspondence and allow – no, mandate – the government to wiretap everybody, always, in bulk and without warrant. They looked at me like I was an idiot. Some said what the others were apparently thinking: “Such a law can’t pass here. You’re making that up.” And so, the FRA law enabling bulk warrantless wiretapping passed in Sweden.

The developments that are happening – right here, right now – are too shocking for most people to comprehend. Many don’t want to absorb what is happening, because the consequences are horrifying. And I understand them completely.

There is exactly one thing that can reverse this trend. There is one thing, and only one. If politicians aren’t losing their jobs en masse over this, and fast, then we will pass a point of no return. Democracy still works, but its fundaments are becoming increasingly eroded, and one day it will fall. All of the current parties have sold out to surveillance and wiretapping. They must be kicked out, or we will have Orwell on steroids within a decade.

After all, with all that has been revealed as reality now, if the politicians responsible for this are re-elected in denial or in a shrug of the shoulders, totalitarianism beyond your nightmares is just around the corner. Re-election will send a signal that further consolidation of absolute power is a boost to their careers, and act accordingly.

Yes, that means I am advocating voting for somebody that has privacy as their number one priority. I started one such party that has spread to 70 countries. There may be others, take your pick. That is the only thing left you can do within the current crumbling framework of a democratic society, and doing so is much more important than jobs, than money, than healthcare, than schooling, than any of the usual political billboard issues.

The one remaining option after that is not a place any of us want to go.

I wish I could ask how many more warning bells people need to see what’s happening, but the question is pointless, because there won’t be another one. This was the final bell.

(Article photo of marching soldiers by José A. Warletta.)

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Nordic model countries

    Have you checked recently how law in Sweden actually defines the concept of terrorism?

    I had a look at the law in Finland (http://www.finlex.fi/sv/laki/ajantasa/1889/18890039001#L34a, in Swedish, esp 1§ and 6§), and it doesn’t exactly match what one might expect.

    First of all, the law protects the state (actually, any state), authorities and international organisations but not the people, at least not directly. Second, the acts considered as terrorism may be something rather minor like stealing a van (erm… using a van without owners permission) or potentially even littering if deemed to pose serious threat to a state. Elsewhere in legislation, broad powers are granted to authorities investigating suspected terrorist activity or preparations for it.

  2. BenFromIceland

    Great article. I worry how this will end seeing as nobody seems to care about their internet privacy. Seems the world has gone, or has always been, mad.

  3. Kaylee

    There is no press anymore in fascist Greece. They are also already rounding up random citizens in fascist Greece and putting them in concentration camps. Then there is also fascist Hungary. Now there is also totalitarian England (considering their history on censorship this had to be expected). That makes a score of at least 3 fallen countries in Europe.

    And then there is Russia, that is outlawing minorities and increasing hatred and violence. There is the International Olympic Committee that supports Russia’s outlawing of LGBT people and is eager to repeat 1936.

    Then I’m almost forgetting that massive civil wars are raging through Africa.

    I no longer expect that people will open their eyes. I expect that fascism will spread Europe like a plague. That at some point civil wars will start all around Europe. The world looks awfully similar to the late thirties, so I don’t expect World War 3 to be that far off. The future looks grim, very grim.

    At least I will probably be lucky enough to be among the first people that get murdered in my country.

    1. Colin

      But in 1939 Britain (after a lot of appeasing Hitler) finally went to war in defence of freedom.
      Sadly I don’t see any European nation, or indeed any nation, likely to go to war in defence of freedom now.
      What is more likely is that eventually when most people feel the yoke of oppression is too heavy, they will rebel. They will die in their huge numbers fighting the police and military as they try to regain democratic control of their countries.
      Thanks goodness the country I live in has not (yet) become completely totalitarian.

      1. Adrian

        Well, some south american nations are trying to somehow rise up against all this, but of course they can’t do much. Not on an international scale.

  4. Orneon

    “At least I will probably be lucky enough to be among the first people that get murdered in my country.”

    Sadly, this is the only consolation we – resistants and dissidents – can get. And it’s not quite that comforting.

    1. scandinavianpirate

      Before abducting / killing people they will try and portray us as wierd doomsayers / losers not to be taken seriously and then spread that with rumors and if necessary, mass media.

  5. steelneck

    Groklaw is shutting down, and the farewell letter is very touching (i felt the same when the FRA passed in 2008, i was seconds from terminating my internet connection forever, i am still contemplating it))

  6. steelneck

    Imagine “ajax.fraapis.se”, would you use that in your blog?

  7. Anonymous

    one of the worst countries that this is happening in is the UK. those in charge, particularly Cameron and May, are taking the people down a road that millions died keeping us off. they are following blindly, in my view, the lead of the USA. they are ignoring everything except what they want to achieve. the problem with the UK is that the people have to be pushed to breaking point before they actually get off the setee and do anything. once they are at that point, i wouldn’t want to be in the way of their anger. they say ‘Hell is nothing like a woman scorned’ or something like that. when the UK citizens are put into the position of having to fight, they will and the Cameron’s and the May’s will want to get out of town real fast!

  8. Adrian

    Meanwhile, Russia is trying to block Tor on the grounds of child pornography and terrorism. They haven’t reached this last warning phase, but they’re getting there, and they’re getting there more harshly, and with more intent to crush human rights (as it is evident with all the anti-LGBT fuss going on over there)

  9. Ano Nymous

    This is exactly what everybody needs to know, feel and act. I’m really pissed every time I hear the news about politics. School this, jobs that, taxes this healthcare that. SOME RESPECT FOR PRIVACY AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH PLEASE FFS!!! BASIC RIGHTS!

    I am sure the news are biased by some other forces than visible, though. The problem isn’t the number of warning bells, it’s their loudness. No offense, but more people watch, read and listen to the news than Pirates’ blogs and a few more pages, and the news, as said, are not very privacy advocative.

    The link “destroying their laptops” isn’t a link btw, and I think a properly designed ATM code wouldn’t give the users’ pin to the programmer, only a hashed one.

  10. Anonymous

    Some matters are delicate and people get emotional and it’s like their lose the common sense. Instead of doing a better law, they rush it more or see being careful and being smart like a bad thing.
    People should be particularly skeptical and careful when dealing with laws that deal with sensitive matters like children and safety.
    The vague law can and will be used against society but the well written law will do a better job at protecting what it is meant to protect in the first place.
    The emotional and sensasionalist attitude when dealing with children or safety or drugs never helps.

    1. Autolykos

      I treat any attempts to push a debate into the emotional as a big, red, flashing warning sign. If someone wants me to get emotional, he wants me to stop thinking. And that alone is a damn good reason to be veeery careful and sceptical. But sadly, most people don’t seem to have these instincts and fall for it again and again.
      I’m sure that my schizoid tendencies help me with that, but it can’t be *that* hard to get for “normal” people, either.

  11. Oldtimer

    I’m a pessimist. I don’t believe that people will use what little power they have left and actually vote these bastards out of office. Come voting day the media will be full of discussions of minute details between the only options presented. The politicians want to drown out the dissenting voices and media is happy to oblige.

    Make sure you have your forth box ready and well stocked. That will soon be the only tool left for us.

  12. Ingo Heinscher

    While I generally agree with your analysis, I doubt that being proficient at the use of small firearms could actually be much of use. How would you set up a violent revolution against oppressors with pistols?

    Sure, pistols might be useful when two or four policemen come to detain you, and you need to immobilize them to escape, but what you’d really need in order to actually overthrow a government are *people*. People willing to take great risks, to stand in front of tanks, unarmed, to stop them. People who are willing to walk into a parliament or a government building and force their way past the armed guards, even if threatened with deadly force. You’d need people. Not a majority, not even a large minority. Not 60%, not 40%, not even 10% of the population. But enough willing people to outnumber the security forces on any given site at least 3 to 1, better more. And they need to know what to do, and when. To overthrow a regime, they need to be able to act in a coordinated fashion towards a meaningful strategic goal. Such as, for instance, go and arrest a prime minister who violates the freedom of the press, and take control of a prison to detain him.

  13. Idee

    In Germany there is the parlamentary election 22. September 2013. I already wrote to some owner of websites which will be gone cause of censorship/internetfilter/lavabit/silentcircle/groklaw/dtt guardianstory even to Not-German-Language-Websites to do some Ads on their websites to support PIRATES. They are at 4% need 5% to get in and 10+% for “king maker move” (rick).
    If you know some websites with lots of traffic pirate party can do a “democratic” change. PIRATES don’t want to elect others to do the job we can do much better.
    This is the letter i send:
    Perhaps you feel like supporting PIRATES, spread the election and do some ads on your websites. Sorry Rick for this announcement on your blog.

  14. Adrian


    On a slightly different perspective, but the core issue is the same. Journalists being silenced.

  15. Darragh McCurragh

    While you have some valid points and informational freedom is being threatened along with most other constitutional rights, the Miranda case doesn’t quite seem a case in point. Allegedly he traveled with thousands of confidential documents and it’s little wonder they searched him. I don’t think that would have been different fifty years ago.

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