Qn: Liberty or security?


As Fascism threatened to engulf the world in the 1930s, an international congress of writers and speakers met up to discuss the threats to freedom posed by the harsher laws being passed among countries. M. Foster, a critic, quoted Kipling in his speech:

“He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,

Set his guards about us, as in Freedom’s name.

He shall peep and mutter, and night shall bring.

Watches ‘neath our window, lest we mock the king.”

What he comprehended was that in times of emergency, a person has to be more vigorous in defending his liberty rights as it is precisely during these ties that the government will restrict freedom, preaching necessity. I fully agree that in times of emergency, though specific measures are an absolute necessity to upkeep security, liberty should not, at any point in time, be compromised.

Though Fascism has almost ceased to exist, a new threat has taken over our cornerstone of fear: terrorism. Possibly the most infamous act of terrorism in recent years has to be the crashing of the planes in New York on Sept 11th, 2001. The attack exterminated thousands of lives and shattered the “tight-security” image of the US. In view of this, national security has been raised to prevent future possible attacks and to identify suspects even before they have the chance to strike. This phenomenon of imposing tighter security measures and checks is not just limited to the US. In my country Singapore, these measures are also prevalent. For example, in train stations, the security officers have the rights to stop any suspicious characters and demand for their identification cards. Also, those carrying suspicious-looking bags can also be stopped and requested to hand over their bags for checks. These measures may well possibly prevent any terrorists or bombs from reaching the trains and threatening the lives of innocent passengers.

Though these actions are important in upholding the security in our society, they should not in any ways compromise the liberty of individuals. Yet in nowadays society, extreme actions are undertaken in the name of national security. We look no further than the advocator of liberty, Big Brother USA. The Bush's administration has taken national security to the extreme end of the spectrum, with numerous doctrines executed and apparently justified by sugarcoating it with the slogan “protecting our citizens in the war against terrorism.” So are we just going to allow the government to continue to tap our phone conversation or to possess this central data-logging system whereby our most intimate details straight down to our personal DNA codings are stored? Under no circumstances can these doctrines be justified. Extreme measures that infringe liberty should be condemned and not be contrived. Politicians react to terrorism by limiting liberties, namely the freedom to do as one pleases. But radical measures will only cause liberty to fall prey to terrorism. Terrorists seek to destroy our freedom, and these measures only serve to promulgate their cause.

As can be seen, governments restrict freedom of citizens to facilitate the capture of these fanatics. However, anything more than the bare minimum is tantamount to succumbing to the fanatical terrorists. It can be deemed responsible for security officers to conduct checks on suspicious characters. However, extreme measures like keeping DNA combinations, thumbprints etc in a government data-logger system can be considered violating a person’s right to privacy, a significant part of liberty.

The keystone to liberal society is individual autonomy. Though individual autonomy is subjected to limits, these limits should be set in a way that protect what is most valuable in liberty rather than to compromise it. Terrorists, advocates of unwavering support and loyalty to the hegemony, strike fear in us and threaten to impose ancient oppression on us. To restrict ourselves and have our freedom barricaded is equivalent to handcuffing ourselves for them.

“Safety does not come free, but at the price of vigilance- and sacrifices if the need arises.” Certain measures are indeed necessary to keep terrorism in check; but not at any point in time should liberty be compromised.

The greatest downfall of our generation may well prove to be the government working in-sync, and not against terrorism, ironically in the name of national security.