Civil rights kowtow to counter-terrorism

August 16, 2012 - 07:36

Norwegians are becoming increasingly willing to let the authorities infringe on their civil rights in the fight against terrorism.

Perhaps a more common sight in the future – a military check-post on the street Hammersborggata in Oslo, the day after a Norwegian terrorist bombed government buildings and massacred young Labour Party members. (Photo: Chell Hill/ Wikimedia Commons)

Norwegian officials and police are under a barrage of criticism for their failure to avert the terrorist car-bombing outside the PM’s office and the gunning down of youngsters at Utøya on 22 July last year.

Simultaneously, Norwegians are becoming increasingly willing to let the authorities infringe on their civil rights in the fight against terrorism, according to research fellow Sissel Haugdal Jore.

She’s a researcher at the University of Stavanger’s Department of Industrial Economics, Risk Management and Planning.

Jore says that some of the measures initiated in Norway after the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington DC would not have been tolerated by the Norwegian citizenry in the early 1990s.

One example is simply the passage of statutes dealing with terrorism in Norway’s legal codes.

“Previously the authorities were clearly opposed to doing so because they felt we already had laws against such activities well enough covered in our existing statutory regulations, for instance by the laws against murder,” says Jore.

She says counter-terrorist law issues have stirred relatively little controversy in Norway.

Scepticism to secret services in the 1990s

“The September 11 attacks turned terrorism into an international issue and it became important to support initiatives against it.”

The Twin Towers in New York 11 September 2001. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to that, in the 1990s, memories of the Cold War were still fresh and there was a lot of criticism of the secret services’ domestic spying techniques on the Left.

The report issued by the Lund Commission in 1996 showed that the police had systematically practiced illegal surveillance of Norwegian citizens.

“This wasn’t a climate for empowering the state with more opportunities for such activities. The media was questioning whether Norway should even have secret services,” says Jore.

Changes in the understanding of terrorism

She has also analysed the media’s coverage of terrorism in the 1990s. She found remarkably little about the subject in the archives. Naturally, this all changed after 9-11.

“The Norwegian Police Security Service has attained a more central function after 11 September,” she says.

Jore thinks that in the future, we will have to tolerate even more encroachments from the authorities linked to counter-terrorism.

“Yes, I think so, because Norway traditionally obeys international directives. The EU is at work on several projects regarding technology and surveillance.” 

Scaling down security

Allocations to public security and preparedness were scaled down in the decade following the end of the Cold War, according to Kenneth Pettersen, an associate professor at the University of Stavanger.

PST: The Norwegian Police Security Service (Photo: The Ministry of Justice and Public Security)

“The real value of appropriations for security and preparedness, for instance to the police and civil defence, dropped during the decade following the end of the Cold War,” he says.

No wish to be prepared for everything

The preparedness we have against terrorism will be a result of budgetary allocations, political decisions and ethical choices – but it won’t be foolproof.

Jore points out that a society can never be prepared against every scenario, nor would that be desirable, in part because it would be excessively costly.

Even though the Norwegian people are increasingly willing to accept slightly more pervasive measures to prevent terrorism, they don’t want to see their open society transformed into something Draconian aimed at tackling every conceivable threat.

“I would be very surprised if people would want such a thing. I think the public discourse in Norway about terrorism and counter-terrorism lately has made people more aware that we pay a price to live in a society like ours,” she says.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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