So I've been meaning to read something by Cory Doctorow for a while. The guy has class, and he's a prominent member of today's civil-rights community, which I have a lot of respect for.
I've finally gotten round to looking up his site, and read one of the e-books he makes freely available: Little Brother. It freaked the hell out of me. And it prominently raised a question that's been bothering me for a while: why don't most people pay any attention to attacks on their rights?
Why do people cheer when the government arrests people, locks them up without trial, and won't release them even if they're proved innocent? Why do people accept the government's right to snoop on people in the hope of catching them in minor misdemeanours? In short, how can anyone hear the words "if you've nothing to hide then you've nothing to fear" without spitting soft drink all over their keyboard?
Governments are made of people. People can get things wrong. Worse, a decent minority of people are power-hungry bastards. Any organisation that possesses power will tend to attract such individuals like wasps to a picnic. Once a critical mass of bastards builds up, a powerful organisation can go bad real fast.
Terrorist groups are also made up of people, most of whom can be legitimately considered to be bastards. However, there are several important differences here:
1) Governments have better raw materials. So far no terrorist has ever got hold of a nuke; the government of the USA has about 10,000 and once blew up two whole cities.
2) Governments have more manpower. Al Qaeda is estimated to have on the order of 20,000 members worldwide, many of whom have day jobs. The UK Civil Service has 500,000 full-time employees, and that's just one component of one country's government.
3) Governments have stronger surveillance capacity. Fraudsters have to struggle to get access to even a few people's records; the UK government has lost 30 million personal records this year alone, including mine.
4) Governments tend to get the benefit of the doubt. If any non-governmental group had killed as many dogs as the various USA police forces, they'd have been (ahem) hounded out of the country.
Governments have 99% of the power, 99% of the weapons, and 99% of the mob support. Goverments have a long history of going bad. And yet we're worried about those terrorists who don't work for the State?