February 11, 2011


The Counter-Terrorism Review: Trading liberty for security (Dr Michael Lister and Dr Lee Jarvis, 5 February 2011, OpenDemocracy)

The revised counter terrorism apparatus continues to enshrine principles that bend and strain procedural fairness. It is still possible to become subject to serious state power without access to evidence or the ability to challenge detention. The concerns articulated by people with whom we spoke were of principle, not of numbers and amounts. The review seems to focus on a quantitative easing of the apparatus, whilst leaving the broad architecture intact. Taken together, we would argue that the review does little or nothing to restore such procedural fairness or to address the sense that some individuals and communities have of being targeted, and the problems this brings about.

And these problems create challenges and issues in terms of security too. As noted, it has been suggested that disaffection may render counter terrorism efforts counter productive as communities will not cooperate with the police and security services. But security is not simply a quality that states possess. At present, the language of ‘balancing liberty and security’ or ‘rebalancing’ seems to be prominent. Yet, as noted political theorist Jeremy Waldron asks: What is it that we are actually balancing? He concludes that in actuality it is not the liberty of all for the security of all, but something more akin to the security of the majority for the liberties of the minority. This does not provide justice and, for a minority, has a serious and negative impact on their security. In the process this therefore fails also either to ensure or increase security; for the majority or the minority.

One is reminded of the famous maxim often attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "one who would trade liberty for security deserves neither". As people we spoke to in our research confirmed, security is often understood by people in terms akin to liberty and freedom. Security and liberty are not viewed as oppositional goods by many people, which need to be traded off or balanced, but rather as elements on the same continuum. To think that some of one can be traded for some of the other seems specious, dangerous, unjust and illiberal. To suggest that a review that continues to do so marks a glorious day for civil liberties (or security) is flawed at best, and specious and fatuous at worst.

It is not, of course, liberty and security that are at opposite ends, but freedom and security. >Liberty is the compromise that reconciles the two and is absolutely pivotal to our republicanism. Any laws and procedures that target only certain persons or communities, rather than being universally applicable, are problematic because they are inconsistent with such republican liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2011 5:36 AM
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