How much Civil Liberties to give for Security?

People around the world hold the belief that every individual bear some right and freedoms by virtue just of being human or granted by God. Civil liberties mean to have freedom from arbitrary interference in a person’s pursuit, such as the freedom to practice religion, or freedom of expression. Some examples of civil liberties include freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom from torture, freedom from forced disappearance, right to privacy, right to live, right to marry, etc.

In recent times, at the center of many liberty rights debates is one fundamental question, how much civil liberty to give up for security. “Civil liberties advocates contend that a careful balance must be struck between achieving security and protecting civil liberties.” (Martin, p. 91)

To achieve security, our government must pragmatically concentrate on how to disrupt and prevent domestic terrorist conspiracies, how to deter activists from crossing the line between political violence and radical activism, etc. For that purpose, as a matter of practical necessity, counterterrorism policy requires controlling the flow of information via the media or engaging in surveillance of communications. “Both options potentially challenge fundamental notions of civil liberty.” (Martine, p. 92)

For Homeland Security these measures are absolutely necessary. Right now, electronic surveillance is everywhere. Unregulated interception of telephone conversations, telefacsimile transmissions, e-mail, social media content is the National Security Agency’s everyday routine. “In July 2000, it was widely reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) possessed a surveillance system that could monitor Internet communications, Called Carnivore, the system was said to be able to read Internet traffic moving through cooperating Internet service providers.” (Martin, p. 96)

If you think calmly, it is in fact, normal for a government to possess such software to monitor for preventing purposes any illegal activities, and I understand this. But somehow these electronic surveillances went much further.

Last night, after watching the movie “Snowden” on Amazon a cloud of discomfiting doubt stacked in my mind. Is it really that Uncle Sam is monitoring us, all of us, 24/7? Since the Patriot Act, many disputes arose over its pros and cons. It is undoubted that the Act makes the surveillance easier and is speeding up investigations.

However, many Americans believe that the terrorist attack prevention can be done without giving an enormous authority to the government to investigate any individual whom they see fit. “When even a person’s library record become a government concern, it is just reasonable for people to become skeptical or fearful about this regulation.

Also, it became obvious to skeptics of the Patriot Act that they would never have the chance to express publicly their grievances. This resulted in an emotional climate with dear and hostility since the act’s inception.” (Eco friendly blog)

Surely, there should be a balance between protecting a nation and protecting its citizens’ civil liberties. The debate is not a new one. “Historical precedents indicate that the debate on this issue is an old as the nation.” (Martin, p. 104)

There will frequently be a natural tension between securing the homeland and preserving human rights. In my view, we all should focus not only on the legal aspect of the problem, but moral values of the measures too.


1 Martin, Gus. (2015). Understanding Homeland Security. (1st ed.) SAGE Publications. Print. GreenGarage. The ECO-
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