Terrorism shouldn’t happen. But the simple matter-of-fact is that it does, and it will probably continue to occur a long time into the future. I would never justify the taking of another innocent’s life, however I think sometimes it isn’t too difficult to understand at times where so-called ‘terrorists’ are coming from. I mean, living in a robotic society where how your life should be is dictated to you from a young age up until the day you die can be difficult. Not having a voice and being given a false facade of freedom; knowing your place in society and having to accept it, feeling frustrated by the shackles around your feet and the clamp over your mouth – well, of course it’s difficult, especially when you are conscious that this is what’s happening around you. And here I’m talking about this so called ‘democracy’ that is Britain!
So in this ‘liberal democracy’ in recent years we’ve been made to believe that the risk of terrorism is high. I studied counter-terrorism in my last semester at University and found the topic absolutely fascinating. Having to argue every week around the concept of ‘security v liberty’ raised some very interesting issues (especially when a Jewish girl on my course tried to justify that Israel are not doing wrong when they commit their crimes against the Palestinians – this raised a MASSIVE counter-argument, I assure you!). I also learnt a lot that I simply was not aware of, and not until studying this topic did I realise just quite how much our liberties have been relinquished in order to maintain our ‘security’. Or so they say.
This is one of the essays I prepared in preparation for exam time. I hope it will open your eyes to what is happening around you and what is set down solid in the LAW. Yes, we are legally bound by these limitations upon our freedom and liberty, yet we stay silent. I think it’s about time we sit up, open our eyes, ears and mouths, and make some serious noise.
Security v Liberty in the UK From A Counter-Terrorism Perspective
When it comes to protecting ourselves against the threat of terrorism, it appears that in regards to all counter-terrorism policies and practice, there will always be the argument of trying to balance the liberty of the people with the security of the people; a very difficult task. It has always been famously argued that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” which highlights even further the idea of security and liberty; so-called terrorists create the situations where security measures are needed in order to fight for their, or their groups, freedoms and liberties. It is such an oxymoron which on the simple basis of it, makes sense. But this simple ideology creates so many problems, which we have seen throughout the history of terrorist activities right up until the modern day.
As time has gone on, there has always been a threat of terrorism; from the IRA during the 20th century to the threat of Al-Qaeda in the modern day, particularly after the events of 9/11 and the July 7th London bombings in 2005. The government, in implementing measures to protect the public from terrorist threats have always had to face up to a difficult balancing exercise; to what extent it is okay to infringe upon peoples’ civil liberties in order to ensure that security measures are adequate enough to protect them from terrorist threats?
Many critics and theorists of counter-terrorism policy have put forward arguments in favour of more security over liberty, and on the other hand more liberty over security.
Aleinkoff argues that the very concept of balancing undermines our understanding of constitutional law as an interpretive enterprise, transforming it into a general discussion of the reasonableness of governmental conduct. This could be taken as to mean that as the people we shouldn’t even question governmental activity as surely they will always do what is in our best interests. But do they?
In ‘Security v Liberty: An Imbalanced Balancing’, Gross looks more closely at the balancing metaphor and takes a more liberty based approach. He says that when a government are faced with extreme violent emergencies, whether real or perceived (such as the real emergencies of 9/11 and 7/7, or the perceived threat of future attacks), they are unable to accurately assess the risks facing the nation because of cognitive limitations. Arguing that the people in power don’t have the mind-scope to rationally analyse the risk and because of this bounded rationality and failure to process information perfectly, Gross says this is always likely to result in an under-evaluation of liberty and an over-evaluation of security placing undue emphasis on certain ‘potential risks’.
This can be seen in policy form in the emergency passing of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, which was hurriedly passed by UK government in a response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York City in 2001. This Act was passed to increase powers to deal with those suspected of planning or assisting in terrorist attacks in the UK, with controversially, many of its measures not specifically relating to terrorism. For example, legislation here could not only be used against so-called terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, but also against more innocent groups such as those protesting against genetically modified crops. This makes us question whether, in passing emergency legislation, the government actually take the infringement of peoples civil liberties into account. It seems, using the threat of terrorism here, parliament had the perfect excuse to curtail people’s freedoms in other areas and did so quite easily.
The controversial section 23 of the Act allowed for the detention without trial of foreigners who were suspected of terrorism and could not be deported: under the Human Rights Act 1998, all UK legislation has to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, however this massively goes against Article 6 of the Convention which is the right to a fair trial. There is no wonder that this Act was described as “the most draconian legislation Parliament has passed in peacetime in over a century”.
Gross uses the concept of the availability heuristic, highlighting the power of the media in helping us as the public to accept our liberties being infringed. He says that strong, vivid images put out by the media associated with particular events are emotional and provoking; the more ‘image provoking” they are, the more we will perceive them to happen again. For example, propaganda used around 9/11, even ‘til today, is extremely powerful, meaning we will be more likely to accept our liberties being infringed in order to prevent that happening to us, even if the likelihood of it occurring is very low. Paul Slovic, on prospect theory and probability says with high-magnitude, low-probability risks, our attention is directed almost exclusively to the outcomes rather than to the likelihood of such events occurring. He continues by saying that individuals perceive risks as more serious, the more dreaded and unknown they are, and the more dreaded and unknown they, the more people demand something be done. In this sense, it could be said that when passing legislation that infringes civil liberties vastly, parliament are only doing what the public demands or expects them to do therefore giving them no problems in trying to attempt to balance security with liberty.
Waddington, another legal theorist in the realm of counter-terrorism poses a liberty based assessment, saying that the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (as already mentioned) caused alarm and opposition among civil libertarians. He says that these measures are going to lead to the continuing progressive erosion of our civil liberties; what causes us alarm at first, we will sooner or later grow to accept leading to the process of normalisation of the exceptional. The ‘net-widening’ process he says, led to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temp. Provisions) Act 1996 becoming permanent through the Terrorism Act 2000, widening its powers and leading us to accept erosion of our civil liberties.
Pantazis and Pemberton put forward the idea that, since the events of 9/11, government policy and procedure has led to a new suspect community forming in the minds of the people; once it used to be the Irish, and now it is the Muslims. Waldron, posing a risk-based argument, says it is minority of a minority that potentially pose a risk, so is this risk of an extreme minority enough to infringe not just upon theirs, but everyone’s civil liberties?
The UK CONTEST Counter-Terrorism policy which was developed in 2003 and made public in 2006 goes further in ‘justifying’ the erosion of our liberties. Under the banners of Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare, the government were given the power to use intelligence measures, to stop certain groups from meeting, to have border control lists and enhance firearms capabilities of the police and emergency services. Under the CONTEST strategy, innocent people have been detained, extradited and even killed but because of the strategy put in place to combat terrorism, the government is ‘justified’ in doing so. Only time will tell but all of this is indefinitely leading towards an oppressive, military-esque police state, if indeed we are not already there.
I think it is important to say that the government use protecting our security as a way to further impose on our civil liberties and curtail our freedoms; it is never really a balancing exercise for them. They pass whatever they want and give us reasons which we can choose to accept, in accepting the measures they pass and the policies they put in place. Because of media, propaganda, high-magnitude/low-probability risks and the whole idea that we are ‘under threat’, many of us are willing to relinquish our liberties to be safe. Even when certain policies cause us to raise an eyebrow or to question why, normalisation over time leads us to accept whatever has been put in place.
Like Zedner said, security becomes a moving target and the government will make us believe that we need to chase it to be safe. The only question that arises from this is, when and at what point will it ever stop?
Written by Sabah Ismail
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