The United States was in turmoil after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, amidst a sea of insecurity. The terror attack demonstrated the need for a balance between freedom and security in order to maintain stability without jeopardizing civil liberties. Following the incident, Congress immediately passed the Patriot Act, which President George W. Bush highlighted in 2001 as a way of preventing terrorist attacks and maintaining national security (Haynes, 2015). Civil rights groups, on the other hand, say that the legislation violates basic American civil liberties. The study will further seek to explain how liberty and security strike a balance to enhance stability in a nation without curtailing rights by presenting core human values that personify the need for balance between security and freedom at the national level.
As a new intern in a state non-governmental organization, the induction manager presented me with a form to fill my email address and details of my social media accounts. According to the manager, the firm had experienced several cyber-attacks and was keen on keeping tabs on every employee’s online traffic to ensure staff did not visit sites that would invite the download of malicious software. I was skeptical about giving my personal information, however, after several assurances that the firm was not interested in my affairs but only tracking my internet usage I agreed to the policy. The scenario had me thinking about the intricacies of balancing the need for security and protecting individual freedoms. This personal experience informed the thesis for this essay which states: freedom and security are not exclusive concepts but are mutually responsible for the stability and security of a democratic nation that preserves the rights and liberties of citizens.
America was born primarily out of the need to secure the civil liberties of all citizens. However, given the heated debate on freedom versus security, one can’t help but imagine a scenario where a country has no rules, nothing is illegal, wrong, and immoral but freewill reigns. According to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, such a state of affairs would be a “war of all against all,” where everybody fights everyone else to protect their beliefs and protect themselves from others (Stahl, 2006). Therefore, the idea of total freedom in a democracy is not only a near impossibility but it could be harmful to the very citizens who propose it. In fact, the mutual dependence between security and freedom is evident in that other people do not violate an individual’s rights and liberties because of security mechanisms in law and order that protect civil liberties. The possible harm of complete freedom is known to even Americans, most of whom do not support the breach of privacy for security purposes. For instance, in his article “Security and Freedom,” Kristof (2002) notes that after the September 11th terror attack, the public was willing to compromise on some liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights if the security risks were too high. Evidently, even the free with their liberty need security to exercise their rights.
The primary responsibility of any government in the world is to protect the citizens and their freedoms, resources, and the nation’s sovereignty from internal and external interference. Just as evidence shows that it is a near impossibility to have absolute freedom, the concept prioritizing total security at the expense of civil liberties can turn a democracy into an authoritarian state. For example, North Korea has a tyrannical government that exerts its will on the citizens and does not therefore incur many cases of insecurity such as terrorism or cybercrime (Mockaitis, 2016). However, the proposed security boosting mechanisms by the National Security Agency (NSA) do not nearly amount to North Korea’s extreme measures but civil rights activist still oppose the recommendations. For instance, according to Haynes (2015), when the NSA intended to roll out the massive surveillance program in 2015, whistleblower Edward Snowden said the plan was too expensive for civil liberties. In fact, the move by NSA led to the tabling of a bill, the USA Freedom Act, in Senate to end what the house termed as “abuses of the massive eavesdropping program” (Haynes, 2015). It is evident that those who seek to preserve civil liberties and agencies keen on fighting insecurity through all means available have the interest of the entire nation at heart. Thus, it is not necessary to have to choose between complete freedom and total security but stakeholders on both sides of the divide can find a balance that works for everyone.
Any issue that touches on the rights of people such as civil liberties is emotive, and matters of national importance like security are critical, and therefore it is a gross mistake to think that freedom and security are opposing ideas. According to Stahl (2006), other 17th century philosophers disagreed with Hobbes’ proposal of an all-powerful government and proposed finding a middle ground between the two extremes instead. Furthermore, the fact that freedom and security are not at war is well elaborated in the United States National Anthem by the line “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” “Land of the free” speaks to the civil liberties that laws such as the USA Freedom Act seek to protect. In the same vein, “home of the brave” is a representation of America’s willingness to secure its sovereignty and freedom by all means such as the NSA massive surveillance program and President Bush’s 2001 Patriot Act. Therefore, it is essential to understand that the debate on security versus freedom is not a matter of right versus wrong but finding the best solution for the benefit of every American.
There are also arising critical issues about the validity of each extreme in the security versus freedom spectrum. First, it is unclear whether massive surveillance and metadata collection make any substantial contributions to counterterrorism. For example, according to the report published by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, NSA can acquire information on terror threats without using the Section 215 program that collects telephone records (Medine, 2015). Secondly, it is plausible that the public is eager to speak about the abuse liberties by NSA’s security strategies because citizens are not responsible for their security, and may not understand the level of necessity of programs like Section 215. According to Kristof (2002), an opinion poll report showed that 49 % of Americans thought that the First Amendment “went too far.” The fact that there are skeptical issues on both security and freedom further accentuates the needs for balance. Moreover, the NSA may consider public participation in some of the exercises to attract more cooperation from a citizenry that feels involved in making decisions that are of national importance and touch on their rights.
Balancing any two seemingly warring ideals is a core American value. For example, psychiatrists often advice patients of mental illnesses like depression and stress to find a middle ground between professional careers and social life. Neglecting one’s job can affect the ability to secure necessary needs but being socially inept while chasing money affects personal relationships leading to problems like divorce. The same balance should apply when defending the nation but also preserving the will and right of the citizens. Another value that informed the writing of this essay in support of seeking balance is the foundational importance of family. Every person tries what is best for their family, and both freedom and security are essential to the survival of healthy and vibrant families that will form the next generations of proud Americans.
Freedom and security are not exclusive concepts but are mutually responsible for the stability and security of a democratic nation that preserves the rights and liberties of citizens. The two ideals are not opposed to each other but benefit the citizens of a country when applied adequately with a well-defined middle ground. Citizens need security to express their freedom, and the government calls for free citizens for cooperation to avert security threats.
Haynes, D. (2015, May 14). Liberty vs. security: an old debate renewed in the age of terror. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved from http://archive.jsonline.com/news/opinion/liberty-vs-security-an-old-debate-renewed-in-the%20age-of-terror-b99500066z1-303775951.html/
Kristof, N. (2002, Sept. 10).Security and freedom. New York Times. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/2002/09/10/opinion/security-and-freedom.html
Mockaitis, T. (2016, Feb. 19). Security vs. Civil Liberties. Huffing Ton Post. Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-mockaitis/security-vs-civilliberties_b_9273478.html.
Medine, D. (2015). Security vs. liberty a false choice. Cable News Network. from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/23/opinions/medine%20surveillance-after%20parisattacks/index.html
Stahl, N. (2006). Freedom versus Security: the False Alternative. The Under Current. Retrieved from theundercurrent.org/freedom-versus-security-the-falsealternative/