Liberty and Security in Modern Times
Liberty and security can sometimes seem to be in conflict. As Benjamin Franklin said, “they that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Yet, as Hamilton explained in The Federalist, a strong nation can preserve both. It is the duty of the government to uphold its citizens’ freedom and that requires vigilance.
Liberty and Security in the 21st Century
Since 9/11, national security has come to the forefront of public life. Governments have seized unprecedented powers in the name of protecting citizens from terrorist attacks and other threats. Those measures often have the effect of diminishing civil liberties. Yet the nation has never fully learned how to restore those rights once the threat subsides, and how to prevent further erosion in times of perceived danger.
The debate over liberty and security continues to rage. The symbiotic relationship between the two is complex. As Benjamin Franklin admonished, “They that can give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This advice is no less relevant today. Sweeping security measures rarely pay off, and they tend to reduce aggregate liberty by alienating people from their governments. They also can make people fearful of their fellow citizens, increasing the likelihood that a future attack will occur. The best approach is not to balance liberty and security but to insist on policies that maximize both, when possible.
Liberty and Security in the United States
Liberty and security are often pitted against each other in public decision-making. This can be seen in the discussion about how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic or in the debate over counter-terrorism. In particular, it is frequently suggested that the security of a person or group of persons should be sacrificed in order to ensure freedom for others (Posner: 2008).
It can also be seen in the rapid passage of anti-terror legislation and the proposal of obligatory national ID cards. Furthermore, it can be observed in the acceptance of military tribunals for certain suspected terrorist cases characterized by closed proceedings and relaxed conviction standards.
Such sweeping measures threaten the civil liberties of citizens at home and abroad, while guaranteeing only dubious safety gains. The proper approach is to demand policies that maximize both liberty and security to the extent practicable. They are locked together in a hostile symbiosis and the doctrinaire embrace of one to the detriment of the other will always ultimately disserve both.
Liberty and Security in Europe
The development of the area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) in Europe is a major policy issue that raises important questions for EU law and politics. In particular, the question arises whether or not enhanced security in the form of anti-terrorism policies may legitimately have as an objective the reduction of civil liberties in the name of national security.
Several scholars have identified ways in which liberty and security can be reconciled. Nevertheless, there are also indications that liberty, understood as freedom from the State to engage in civil disobedience and other activities outside the scope of criminal activity, has been sacrificed in the name of combating terrorism and maintaining public safety.
It is possible that the framing of the war on terror as a new type of warfare has allowed politicians and military elites to legitimise the notion that the security of the nation takes precedence over individual civil liberties. However, this is not a universal view amongst citizens.
Liberty and Security in Asia
Across Asia states remain committed to protecting their autonomy. This is not uniquely East Asian, although the region’s governments are particularly obsessive about sovereignty to a striking degree. This has shaped the architecture of domestic and regional security for Southeast Asian countries. It has also impacted the ways that they embrace the comprehensive human security concept and the way in which they understand the concepts of freedoms from fear and from want, of preparedness for calamities, and of protecting civil liberties from terrorism.
The result is that the civic space in several countries has been restricted. In response to terror attacks, some countries have passed anti-terrorism legislation, limiting their citizens’ rights in a number of ways, including the introduction of obligatory national ID cards, military tribunals for terrorist cases, and restrictions on online and offline speech. In general, they have sought to increase their law enforcement powers without reassessing the impact on civil liberty. The doctrinaire embrace of one at the expense of the other can only disserve both in the long run.