This House Believes civil liberties should be sacrificed for the greater good

The events of September 11th 2001 resulted in governments all over the world taking extraordinary measures to enhance the security of their citizens. Whether this was justified or not is yet another flashpoint in the age old battle of liberty versus security.

In the US, new security measures included unparalleled airport checkpoint procedures, face recognition devices in public places, tracking, monitoring and identification through thumb printing of certain categories of visitors, random searches of Internet content by intelligence officers, the ability to demand records on somebody from any business or organisation, the use of wiretaps and the ability to intercept and read email, and eavesdropping on conversations between a lawyer and their client. The possible use of racial profiling to target “suspicious individuals” for more thorough searches and questioning is also being seriously discussed, although allegedly not in operation. Most of these measures are associated with loss of privacy; liberty has also been directly infringed through the detention without charge or trial of non-citizens, on the grounds they do not enjoy the same rights as citizens, the designation of US citizens as enemy combatants and their indefinite detention, and by trying suspects through military tribunals rather than in a normal court with judge and jury.

On the one hand, extraordinary security measures are required to counteract the imminent threats of terrorism that has become much more cunning and resourceful over the last decade. On the other hand, the introduction of these measures comes at the expense of sacrificing some of our most cherished civil liberties and rights as citizens. No doubt, there is a trade-off between security and liberty, but what is the ideal balance between them?

Title 
National security is something that must be protected even at the cost of
Point 

Terrorism is part of the modern world and is inextricably linked with the rise of modern communications, the internet, and a global community. This is an age in which space and time are bending to the tune of new media – information at your fingertips may sound nice, but for those who want to destroy, it only makes their object easier to attain. And so more strict national security measures must be employed in order to keep up with the enemy. Escalation is the name of the game imposed on governments around the world by terrorists for example the Mumbai terrorists used GPS systems to guide them into Mumbai, attacks were coordinated on cell and satellite phones and Blackberrys were used to monitor the international reaction [1]. In order to keep up states need new powers to stop, deter, and prevent terrorism. The government needs to secure state-security first; only then can the debate on civil liberties begin, and only then.

[1] Shachtman, Noah, ‘How Gadgets Helped Mumbai Attackers’, Wired, 1 December 2008, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/12/the-gagdets-of/, accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

Nothing justifies some of the security measures taken by western governments. The ancient western conventions of the accused being innocent until proven guilty and his right to a fair trial have both been undermined[1] by the recent Labour administration in the UK. And all in the name of security. The trade-off has gone too far; liberty is something that must be protected at all costs – it seems that governments the world over have forgotten that the whole point of the state is too protect citizens liberty, not destroy it.

[1] BBC News, ‘A brief history of habeas corpus’, 9 March 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4329839.stm, accessed 9 September 2011

Title 
The apparent loss of liberty is overstated.
Point 

Negative cases of security abuse are few and have been greatly exaggerated by an emphatic civil rights lobby that has no empathy for the victims of terrorism. Of course, with any wide-scale attempt to fight terrorism there are bound to be a few cases of abuse of security measures. For example in the UK terrorism suspects were originally detained without charge under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act however the detention was declared unlawful by the law lords in 2005 so the government introduced new scaled back policies such as ‘control orders’.[1] Therefore government has always been willing to scale back its security legislation when the courts believe it goes too far. Nonetheless it is not a good idea to shut down all security measures under a pretext that they violate rights[2]. The majority of the measures are intended to safeguard those civil liberties instead of abusing them.

[1] Hewitt, Steve, THE BRITISH WAR ON TERROR TIMELINE, Libertas, 2007, http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/publications/reviews/THE_BRITISH_WAR_ON_T..., accessed 9 September 2011

[2] Stratton, Allegra and Wintour, Patrick, ‘Nick Clegg goes to war with Labour over civil liberties’, guardian.co.uk, 13 April 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/13/nick-clegg-liberal-democr..., accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

If there is even a slight injustice, then there is a problem worth addressing. It is a fact that recent anti-terrorism legislation, in nearly all western countries, has been used for a variety of uses from international banking[1] to petty thievery. This is obviously beyond the original intentions of these measures; something that should not be taken lightly.

[1] Wintour, Patrick, and Gillan, Audrey, ‘Lost in Iceland: £1billion from councils, charities and police’, 10 October 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/oct/10/banking-iceland, accessed 9 September 2011

Title 
Western countries already benefit from extremely liberal laws.
Point 

The USA is at present far better than most countries in their respect and regard for civil liberties. New security measures do not greatly compromise this liberty, and the US measures are at the very least comparable with similar measures already in effect in other democratic developed countries, e.g. Spain and the UK, which have had to cope with domestic terrorism for far longer than the USA. The facts speak for themselves – the USA enjoys a healthy western-liberalism the likes of which most of the world’s people cannot even conceive of. The issue of the erosion of a few minor liberties of (states like the US’s) citizens should be overlooked in favour of the much greater issue of protecting the very existence of that state.[1]

[1] Zetter, Kim, ‘The Patriot Act Is Your Friend’, Wired, 24 February 2004, http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2004/02/62388, accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

The opposition does not except the importance of legalisation like the US Patriot Act, as such legislation is always used for aims it was not originally intended for example when it is being used to investigate media companies dedicated to free speech - Wikileaks[1]. The fact that western countries are already quite liberal should not be an argument for why that has to change. Should we not be moving forwards towards even more freedoms for citizens instead of backwards?

[1] IBTimes Staff Reporter, ‘Wikileaks: U.S. Seeks Assange Info Through Patriot Act’, 24 August 2011, http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/203200/20110824/wikileaks-cables-patriot..., accessed 9 September 2009

Title 
It is with the popular support of the public that security measures are taken.
Point 

Let us not forget that is with the consent of the public that these security measures are taken, CCTV for example was a populist measure that has often been considered a threat to civil liberties[1]. It is in line with democratic ideals; the majority of the country wants greater security[2]. For example in 2005 59% of Americans wanted the Patriot Act extended.[3] And because democracy embodies all those values we are fighting for – freedom and equality included- we must adhere to a democratic spirit when deciding on how to organise ourselves or else risk falling into the same mind-set as those terrorists themselves.

[1] Norris, Clive, McCahill, Mike and Wood, David, ‘Editorial. The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publically accessible space’, Surveillance & Society, 2(2/4):110-135, 2004, http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/articles2(2)/editorial.pdf, accessed 9 September 2011

[2] Law Council of Australia, ‘Politics and Populism win out at anti-terror summit’, 30 September 2005, http://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/shadomx/apps/fms/fmsdownload.cfm?file_uuid=...

[3] Langer, Gary, ‘Poll: Support Seen for Patriot Act’, ABCnews, 9 June 2005, http://abcnews.go.com/US/PollVault/story?id=833703, accessed 9 

Counterpoint 

Granted, the measures are implemented with popular support; the opposition cannot argue against this. However, to claim that democracy has some inherent value beyond providing a stable society is naïve. Democracy is, in this example, simply the tyranny of the majority – populist measures like unjust anti-terrorism legislation holds no currency in reasoned debate.

Title 
The argument is about practicality and the balancing of risks.
Point 

It would be incredibly disingenuous of the opposition if they did not concede that the dangers are great and that something must be done. Because, deep down, everyone knows that it is simply a balancing of risks – in practice all the government is trying to do is save lives. It is of course, the government’s primary duty to protect citizens but this can only be done with the loss of some civil liberties. These liberties will of course still be completely protected by the courts. When it comes to the issue of life and death, it is the proposition’s hope that a few civil liberties would be only willingly given up by any prudent citizen.

Counterpoint 

The issue would indeed by easy to solve if what the proposition spoke of was the whole story. Unfortunately, the legal measures put in place will always be open to abuse and so, as all power corrupts – and as absolute power corrupts absolutely – the more and more power we give to the authorities the more and more abuse and corruption we will witness. We have seen what happens with big, powerful governments; this is a historical rule, without exception.

Title 
The threat of terrorism and security risks are overstated.
Point 

The threat of terrorism is greatly over exaggerated. Western governments all over the world are effectively selling the threat of terrorism to their citizens in order to increase their powers of control. The threat, however, has to be exaggerated in order for the electorate to believe that the security measures are needed. The motives of governments doing this vary; some just want the new security measures to make their jobs easier; others however, see it as an opportunity to increase state control and power over the average citizen. There is not enough evidence to show that terrorism has evolved into something more threatening since than it had been for several decades. For example there was the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988 killing 270 people or the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut which killed 63.[1] While the scale is smaller than the 9/11 attacks they are just as terrible and were met with a much more measured response that did not involve infringing civil liberties. Governments are likely to take advantage of anti-terrorist mania and seize the moment to strengthen their regimes. Modern government bodies fighting terrorism are sophisticated enough to counteract terrorism with little use of 'draconian' measures. It is not acceptable to curb citizen rights because of isolated events.

[1] PBS Frontline, ‘terrorist attacks on americans, 1979-1988’, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/etc/cron.html, accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

The proposition can point to the clear acts of terrorism of recent years that have proven difficult to combat and fatal to so many thousands. What the opposition is asking is to simply disregard all these facts on principle, and on principle only; this is overly idealistic and naïve to the extent where people’s lives would be put at risk. To question the motives of democratically accountable governments is a separate question; this is about terrorism and how to stop it; it’s about life and death, and how best protect the former and stop (by all means necessary) the latter.

Title 
The loss of individual liberty is the start of a slippery slope.
Point 

The proposition puts us in a dangerous place. That situation is the thin edge of a totalitarian wedge – we must take a principled stand for liberty and stop the increasing number of anti-terrorist legislation and over powerful policing powers. Many evil events in history started with good intentions and few cases of injustice. Allowing even a few abuses as an acceptable side effect of improved security will change the tolerance level of the public and lead to a belief that rights such as the presumption of innocence and habeas corpus (which prevents the state from imprisoning someone without charging them with a crime and then trying them) are a negotiable luxury. Furthermore, abuses of the system are likely to victimise certain minority groups (e.g. Muslims, Arab-Americans) in the same way that Japanese-Americans and many other groups were persecuted in World War II,[1] something about which Americans are now rightly ashamed.

[1] Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers, ‘Not Just Japanese Americans: The Untold Story of U.S. Repression During 'The Good War'’, The Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1987 (Vol. 7, No. 3), http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v07/v07p285_Hummel.html, accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

If the opposition is citing examples from history then there are just as many examples, if not more, of western governments resisting the corrupting effects of increased power and turning not from good into evil intentions. The fact of the matter is that most of today’s western nations have a relatively good track record. It seems the opposition is once again forgetting the real enemy – the terrorists. In most Western countries we have a fully independent and liberal judiciary, vigorously and vigilantly watching for human rights abuses and protecting civil liberties. For nearly all Western countries, a slippery slope simply does not exist.

Title 
It would be letting the terrorists win
Point 

It is the aim of all terrorists to influence by violent means government policy. If we changed how our country was run we would be letting the terrorists win – they would be getting what they wanted. If we changed the way we lived[1], greater security measures or something else, we would be shaping our society to the tune of the terrorist. So more security measures at airports limit the freedom to travel, turning the country into a surveillance society makes everyone nervous; ultimately the country is no longer the same as it was having lost the freedoms which are the best way to combat terrorism. This is something perversely wrong.

[1] Symanovich, Steve, ‘If you don’t read this, the terrorists win’, Washington Business Journal, 24 December 2001, http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2001/12/24/editorial2.html...

Counterpoint 

If the opposition’s argument is correct then there is simply no way to win. The argument is illogical; they would have the terrorists pick us off slowly until we were all victims all because we simply let them. In short, governments have to do something instead of being completely irrational and holding the immature high ground – “letting them win” is a childish argument.

Title 
It impedes economic progress.
Point 

Extra-security measures only impede, or halt the flow of trade[1], make the country harder to deal with - less internationally ‘friendly’, and disrupt communities. Security states almost always have slower growth than freer states because there is extra red tape, transport networks are slowed down, for example airport check ins take much longer. The U.S. Travel Association, says on average, in the United States as a result of the airport security measures each person avoids two to three trips a year because of the hassles of airport-security screening. That amounts to an estimated $85 billion in lost business for hotels, restaurants, airlines and other travel suppliers.[2] And this is even before the losses caused by unproductive hours, and deterred investment. All these things will decrease incomes and GDP growth.

[1] Verrue, Robert, ‘Tighter Security Must Not Slow Down World Trade’, The European institute, Spring 2004, http://www.europeaninstitute.org/20040302292/Spring-2004/tighter-security-must-not-slow-down-world-trade.html

[2] McCartney, Scott, ‘Aiming to Balance Security and Convenience’, Wall Street Journal, 1 September 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/the_middle_seat.html, accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

Admittedly, extra-security measures do halt economic growth. But then again, so do a lot of things like inertia, or lack of consumer confidence. It is, however, a matter of degree; if the trade-off is between a lessening of economic growth and lives saved, then it is not hard to decide in which direction reason is behind. When lives are saved the economy benefits as those people will remain productive workers. And having lots of security is not all negative, the security business does very well.

Title 
In the public’s eyes, the government seems to suspect everyone.
Point 

Although the anti-terrorist measures are supposed to be trying to catch certain people, it is the whole of the public who have to suffer on a daily basis: an abundance of security cameras, security checks, and anti-privacy measures continually invade innocent people’s lives and yet it is supposed to be the terrorists who are being punished. The issue of justice, and whether it is actually being done, has to be fully looked at properly. These measures are not solving the problem of terrorism as it does not address the core grievances. Instead other ways such as negotiation to address grievances is necessary, as happened in Northern Ireland[1].

[1] Bowcott, Owen, ‘Northern Ireland’, The Guardian, 11 May 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/may/11/tonyblair.labour4, accessed 9 September 2011

Counterpoint 

This is just like any other investigation. Obviously the government has to take a broad approach because any loophole could be exploited by the unscrupulous terrorist. It is a necessity, albeit one with unfortunate consequences, but a necessity all the same. As for negotiations with terrorists, it is the propositions view that this option does not exist  when dealing with terrorists of a fundamentalist background, who are, by definition, not willing to compromise and therefore unable to be negotiated with.

Bibliography 

BBC News, ‘A brief history of habeas corpus’, 9 March 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4329839.stm, accessed 9 September 2011

Bowcott, Owen, ‘Northern Ireland’, The Guardian, 11 May 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/may/11/tonyblair.labour4, accessed 9 September 2011

Hewitt, Steve, THE BRITISH WAR ON TERROR TIMELINE, Libertas, 2007, http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/publications/reviews/THE_BRITISH_WAR_ON_TERROR_TIMELINE.doc, accessed 9 September 2011

Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers, ‘Not Just Japanese Americans: The Untold Story of U.S. Repression During 'The Good War'’, The Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1987 (Vol. 7, No. 3), http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v07/v07p285_Hummel.html, accessed 9 September 2011

IBTimes Staff Reporter, ‘Wikileaks: U.S. Seeks Assange Info Through Patriot Act’, 24 August 2011, http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/203200/20110824/wikileaks-cables-patriot-act-julian-assagne.htm, accessed 9 September 2009

Langer, Gary, ‘Poll: Support Seen for Patriot Act’, ABCnews, 9 June 2005, http://abcnews.go.com/US/PollVault/story?id=833703, accessed 9 September 2011

Law Council of Australia, ‘Politics and Populism win out at anti-terror summit’, 30 September 2005, http://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/shadomx/apps/fms/fmsdownload.cfm?file_uuid=5BB602D3-1E4F-17FA-D2B3-FE0BC28984BE&siteName=lca, accessed 9 September 2011

McCartney, Scott, ‘Aiming to Balance Security and Convenience’, Wall Street Journal, 1 September 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/the_middle_seat.html, accessed 9 September 2011

Norris, Clive, McCahill, Mike and Wood, David, ‘Editorial. The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publically accessible space’, Surveillance & Society, 2(2/4):110-135, 2004, http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/articles2(2)/editorial.pdf, accessed 9 September 2011

PBS Frontline, ‘terrorist attacks on americans, 1979-1988’, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/target/etc/cron.html, accessed 9 September 2011

Shachtman, Noah, ‘How Gadgets Helped Mumbai Attackers’, Wired, 1 December 2008, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/12/the-gagdets-of/, accessed 9 September 2011 

Stratton, Allegra and Wintour, Patrick, ‘Nick Clegg goes to war with Labour over civil liberties’, guardian.co.uk, 13 April 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/13/nick-clegg-liberal-democrats-manifesto, accessed 9 September 2011

Symanovich, Steve, ‘If you don’t read this, the terrorists win’, Washington Business Journal, 24 December 2001, http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2001/12/24/editorial2.html?page=1, accessed 9 September 2011

Verrue, Robert, ‘Tighter Security Must Not Slow Down World Trade’, The European institute, Spring 2004, http://www.europeaninstitute.org/20040302292/Spring-2004/tighter-security-must-not-slow-down-world-trade.html

Wintour, Patrick, and Gillan, Audrey, ‘Lost in Iceland: £1billion from councils, charities and police’, 10 October 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/oct/10/banking-iceland, accessed 9 September 2011

Zetter, Kim, ‘The Patriot Act Is Your Friend’, Wired, 24 February 2004, http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2004/02/62388, accessed 9 September 2011

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