Balancing National Security and Civil Liberties
The events of September 11 led to calls for tightening security to prevent more terrorist attacks. According to Bullock, Haddow, and Coppola (2013), some of the security measures that have since 9/11 been taken, such as those introduced by the statute the U.S.A. Patriot Act, have troubled libertarians (p. 354). There are concerns about the notion that national security measures may occasion an erosion of civil rights and freedoms. Our civil liberties, they argue, are sacrosanct, and that the war on terror should be fought in line with the protection of civil rights considerations. On the flip-side, others hold that the government is justified to limit civil liberties as a necessary measure.
The Balance between Security and Liberty
In my view, both of these are profoundly mistaken approaches to the issue. The fundamental mistake, states Doherty (2013), lies in prioritizing either liberties or security (p. 1). There is a reason civil liberties, such as the immunity from arbitrary, arrest or due process are constitutional enactments and not statutory enactments. The Framers knew their importance, and that is why it is not as easy to amend the constitution, as it is legislation. National security is also important. Neither of these interests, in my view, is of priority as they are both very crucial. The events of 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. national security outlook reveal that the country faces grave danger from enemies that must be fought.
In light of the shadowy threats facing the U.S., Posner (2001) notes, it is reasonable for civil liberties to be limited only where the benefits outweigh the harm (p. 1). But the balance between these two interests lies in the circumstances of the scenario. There are times when one will be more important than the other. The fact that there has to a balance means that there is a conflict between the two. There will be trade-offs. According to Bullock et al. (2013), there are times when the government will be justified to take away civil liberties, and there are times it will not be (p. 356). For example, President Truman’s effort to seize private property to finance the Korean War. The Supreme Court’s decision to rebuff Truman’s attempts shows that it was taken a bit too far. By and large, the best balance between the two lies in the adoption of policies that reinforce both, for without this, both security and liberty have suffered. When civilian strength and national security go hand in hand, as was the case during the Cold War, there will be victory, even without a great war.
Libertarians argue that liberties are sacrosanct and that the war on terror should be fought in line with the protection of civil rights. Others think the government is justified to limit civil liberties as a necessary measure towards keeping the nation safe. Neither of these interests is of priority as they are both crucial. In light of the threats facing the nation, it is reasonable for civil freedoms to be curtailed, but only where the benefits are greater than the harm. The best balance between the two lies in the adoption of policies that reinforce both, for, without this, both security and liberty have suffered.
Bullock, J. A., Haddow, G. D., & Coppola, D. P. (2013). Introduction to homeland security
(5th ed.). Waltham, MA: Elsevier Inc.
Doherty, C. (2013, June 7). Balancing act: National security and civil liberties in post-9/11
era. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/07/balancing-act-national-security-and-civil-liberties-in-post-911-era/.
Posner, R. (2001, December). Security versus civil liberties. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
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