Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A sign of support for those who lost their lives in the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.  (Photo:  thierry ehrmann/flickr/cc)

In Wake of Charlie Hebdo Attack, Let’s Not Sacrifice Even More Rights

Sophia CopeJillian C. York

 by Deeplinks Blog

EFF is stunned and deeply saddened by the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper. As free speech advocates, we mourn the use of violence against individuals who used creativity and free expression to engage in cultural and political criticism. Murder is the ultimate form of censorship.

The journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo have long used satire to engage in cultural critique, a form of expression strongly protected by international norms and with deep historical roots in prompting societal change and igniting discussions on controversial issues (see, for example, Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal and Voltaire’s Candide). In the age of the Internet, satire is finding fecund ground on video sharing sites, social media, and across the blogosphere as a way of engaging in discussion on political issues, social ideas, economic theory, and even poking fun at celebrities. While satire has a long history in France, it has become commonplace in many countries, including in the Middle East, where satirists such as Bassem Youssef (“Egypt’s Jon Stewart”) have faced pressure to go silent. In the face of tragedy and extremism, humor can be a way of reclaiming power.

Often in the wake of a terrorist attack, we see governments move swiftly to adopt new laws without consideration of the privacy rights being sacrificed in the process. Even as we mourn the losses at Charlie Hebdo, we must be wary of any attempt to rush through new surveillance and law enforcement powers, which are likely to disproportionately affect Muslims and other minorities. 

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on individuals exercising their free expression rights. But we must not sacrifice some rights in a rush to protect others.

There are numerous instances in which countries enacted sweeping new laws in the wake of an attack or in response to a threat, when grief and fear outweighed commitments to freedom of expression and privacy. The consequences can be far reaching. In the United Kingdom, the government swiftly revised police powers with the Terrorist Act of 2006 in the wake of bombings in London.  In Australia, new legislative measures were introduced in response to a foiled terrorism plot. In 2012, Iraq tried to quickly push through a set of strict “cybercrime” laws in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. And in the U.S., the 9/11 attacks were used to justify poorly considered legislation that significantly broadened surveillance authorities. Already, U.S. senators are using the Paris attacks to justify mass surveillance programs by the National Security Agency.  

Let us defend freedom of expression by committing to uphold all rights.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Sophia Cope

Sophia Cope is staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is the Electronic Frontier Foundation's director for International Freedom of Expression.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'This Cannot Happen': Biden DHS Seeks Contractor for Migrant Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay

The solicitation for bids—which requires some guards who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole—comes as the administration is under fire for mass deportations of migrants, including thousands of Haitians.

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Vaccine Goals 'Fall Terribly Short' Due to Big Pharma and Rich Nations' Greed: Experts

"Wealthy nations are using up the world's vaccine supply, and developing nations are suffering and losing thousands of people every day."

Brett Wilkins ·


11 Senators Support House Progressives' Push to Pass Full Biden Agenda

"We voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the clear commitment that the two pieces of the package would move together along a dual track."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ex-Prisoners Recall US Torture at 'Afghanistan's Abu Ghraib'

"It is psychologically hard for me to recall all that was happening," said one former Bagram Air Base inmate. "The torture was mostly done by Afghans, sometimes the Americans. But the orders came from the U.S."

Brett Wilkins ·


Rapid Shift to Electric Vehicles Could Create Over 150,000 Jobs in US by 2030

A new report says "smart" pro-labor policies by lawmakers would transform the "inevitable" shift to EVs "into a new beginning for U.S. producers and the rebuilding of a foundation for good jobs."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo