Security vs. liberty: imbalanced, to say the least

While heroically competing in the regular pub quiz at our local with some old school friends, we got to talking about the increased security measures at airports following the anti-terror arrests back in August. I was away on holiday at the time, but it was big news – even Ouest-France, the local paper (for local people), swung away from their focus on small-town civic events and road accidents to provide coverage.

Anyway, one of our party brought up the old “would you rather wait an extra minute, or be blown up?” straw-man argument. I tried telling him that it wasn’t a matter of a simple two-way choice – there are different degrees of response to a terrorist threat. And in the matter of degrees, our government has cocked it right up.

Imagine the alleged terrorist plot had actually been executed. There would be mass panic, grounded flights, and intensive scrutiny of people’s baggage. Exactly the same, in fact, as what is happening now. If the arrests were successful, why the mass cancellations and bizarrely draconian airport security? If a major terrorist plot has been forestalled using existing laws, why the ‘threat levels’ nonsense and calls for ever more sweeping powers? Does anyone else remember not letting the terrorists win? Because our government certainly doesn’t:

The politics of fear. I was bored of it. Now I’m getting fucking scared of it. One side wants to kill us “because of our freedoms”. The other wants to deny us our freedoms in order to protect us. Excuse me? Why are we letting the terrorists win by default?

I know I’m late to the party on all this terrorblogging, but that argument in the pub brought up my true and honest opinion. What makes me feel uneasy is that some people do think of it as a necessary sacrifice. While there’s a definite case for looking at the balance between liberty and security, my feeling is that we’ve already given up far too much of one with only a slight return on the other (you can tell which one is which, I’m sure). U.S. news mentions that the alleged conspirators were caught through police work rather than any general screening; a fine testament to our ability to thwart the terrorist threat, which is then ruined by hysterical over-reaction at airports and on TV. As Bruce Schneier says in that last link: “The real lesson of the London arrests is that investigation and intelligence work.”

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