Security or freedom. Do we give ourselves that choice?

It’s a debate as old as democracy, so why are suddenly so comfortable with sacrificing our liberties and privacy at the Altar of Security?

Why do Western nations continuously persist in allowing corruption within our secret services? The answer is fairly obvious; we are too lazy to do anything about it, let alone educate ourselves on the facts. Whether it be MI5 or the CIA, the pervasive attitude remains that any sacrifices taken by these institutions are ultimately for the greater good of the country, so an extension of their powers only seems natural. There is no need to heed the warnings Benjamin Franklin once famously posed, that we must not sacrifice liberty for security, when we can choose to enthusiastically applaud Miss Missouri’s plain willingness to admit, “I would rather have someone track my phone”, only so she could feel safe at her favourite places; these places included such time consuming distractions as the mall and the cinema.

In many respects, I’d like to think that we are blind and simply in need of more enlightenment. Yet, I am constantly ap_edward_snowden_dm_130610_wmainnagged by this more cynical theory that we just don’t care enough. I, like most people, believe technology, socialising in public, and other sources of entertainment are good for us, if not only to keep our minds afresh. However, the recent NSA snooping scandal only fuels a greater urgency around the need to focus less so on the luxuries in life and more so on how we can enjoy these luxuries without the intrusion of big brother.

The recent controversy surrounding Edward Snowden’s revelations will remain in the mainstream for the foreseeable future, so that even the uninterested individual may very well remember that name in passing. However, governmental secrecy thrives on a misled and disinterested public, which is why I’m sure many of those same people would not know of Bradley Manning and the victimisation he has endured. The same could go for W. Mark Felt (aka Deep Throat), the man known for exposing Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. For most people, they would not have known who Deep Throat was, let alone the fact that he died only 5 years ago.

This lack of knowledge is not the only thing that is troubling, though. For, our society’s unwillingness to educate themselves on such important figures helps drive misinformed opinions. It is understandable as to why people may not be able to recite historic names or claim to know every detail of what Snowden revealed. However, this mentality, unfortunately, leads to foolishness. If it had been up to the majority view of a recent Question Time panel, though, it would seem that Snowden is the one being made out to look like a fool. Perhaps in a society where we rely so often on the state to handle our lives, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those who labelled Snowden a villain are not necessarily as small a minority as one would expect. However, as a libertarian, it becomes painful to witness the way in which Snowden has been treated. Be it the demonising by big government statists or those who simply believe Snowden to be more naive than brave, the moral mind-set that these types of people possess is a long-developing symptom, which has resulted from our state’s suppression of self-determination and independent thinking. All of this, they will claim, is in the interest of security.

Surveillance_quevaalIt is also why the media can push news stories to the side, leaving them largely undetected and subject only to the keen eye. An example could be the recent budget report by the George Osborne. Whilst the Chancellor continued to be heckled about further cuts to the benefit system, the coinciding announcement to increase spending on our secret services drifted by as a largely forgotten story. Be it the result of endless years of fear-mongering that has allowed us to truly sacrifice anything and everything for the continued “security” of our nation, or simply the reality that not many people are unaware of this story, the fact remains that we continue to invest our emotional and financial efforts into enhancing the secret security institutions of a country where the chances of an individual dying from a terrorist attack are multiple times less than from that of a police officer.

With MI6, MI5 and the Government Communications Headquarters set to receive a bonus of up to $154 million and William Hague claiming he has “nothing but pride in the unique and indispensable intelligence-sharing relationship between Britain and the United States”, the government’s undying loyalty, in the face of the recent scandals, could be well perceived as arrogant. However, as long as Western societies remain sucked in their everyday trivialities, their “choice” will continue to be for security. Of course, this close-minded willingness only exposes the harsh reality further, that our choice is now only an illusion. Our financial bloating of anti-terrorist methods and institutions has left us in a position that those who want to choose liberty may very well be too late.

Jak Allen is a student at the University of Kent. A geek of the U.S. Supreme Court and forever wanting to add an historian’s touch to affairs of the present.


  1. Miles, just to clarify. The reference to the Ben Franklin quote says it was simply a warning AND that this warning implied we “must not” take this route. Maybe I could have been made clearer, but it wasn’t meant to wholly assume that increased security automatically leads to a decrease in liberty, but that it was rather a deep consideration by Franklin, in which he had clear convictions on it.

    • Also, I suggest you consider the right to privacy, which is a cornerstone of liberty. Since I fail to see how “security” measures, such as phone hacking can ever be seen as enhancing liberty, when it involves the infringement of privacy rights.

      • You mean Benjamin Franklin misquote, it’s not even an accurate paraphrase. I haven’t read his more detailed works and essays so you would have to clarify for me and yourself what he precisely means by ‘essential liberty’ and ‘temporary security’ but he clearly chose his words carefully here and clearly his ‘warning’ is more subtle.

        and as I stated, the ‘right’ to privacy is not (in my opinion) an essential part of liberty. An otherwise just state could record all of your activity at all times and provided the means caused no inconvenience to you – at no point would you ever be less free.

        I also wanted to draw an link between freedom and security, since when an increase in security leads to a lack of liberty it seems to me that really it was actually a decrease in security. In a just state CCTV serves to increase security and liberty by aiding in the solving and mitigation of crimes, in an unjust state that same security aids in spying on people innocent of the sorts of crimes people should be punished for, in the latter case people are actually less secure, not more.

  2. The idea that security and liberty are opposed is just nonsense. Provided that the laws of your Country are mostly just and fair and the people enforcing those laws do so in a trustworthy manner you theoretically can have as much spying as you want, even if you are monitored 24 hours a day by the Government without your knowledge, how is your liberty being infringed, how are you any less free? The only freedom you lose is the freedom to get away with crimes which isn’t a liberty I would advocate anyway.

    Now being more realistic, taking a Government like ours which has pretty good laws and reasonable behaviour from the people in charge of enforcing them whilst the example I gave above is obviously unrealistic the fact the Government records things or has access to phone records for example is a non-issue, most of it will never be seen, only in rare cases where you are a suspect and even then, if you did nothing wrong you likely have little to worry about.

    Without security you have liberty, security increases not decreases freedom most of the time (if done right) and when Government starts introducing the wrong kind of security, a la many Countries, well at that point you have bigger problems.

    • The actual Benjamin Quote is: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

      which supposes unessential liberty and permanent increases in safety as factors you would need to consider (but no one ever seems to).

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