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 nagged 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.
It 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.