Liberty, safety, and political viability


“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin

Without undermining the importance of national security or the danger of radical jihadists, politicians in the United States and Europe need to keep a sound perspective on the costs and benefits of exchanging our liberties for a little temporary safety. At the moment, many of our anti-terror laws are so vague that they give law enforcement agencies the ability to intrude on or detain individuals with no ill intentions.

The Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, and several British laws guarantee Habeas Corpus. The 42-days law, which passed this week, and the Patriot Act, suspend this "essential liberty" for supposed "temporary safety." The solution is not difficult: if you are going to arrest them, do so with enough evidence to charge the suspect.

It remains to be seen whether or not the law passed yesterday is the result of horse-trading. But, as Lord Goldsmith said,

My fear is that this particular issue over the period of detention without charge has become a symbol of political virility.

This is precisely the problem with the issue of terrorism. It is not a matter of public safety or national interest. It is an issue that politicians use to bolster their own popularity. With Gordon Brown fighting to keep his head above water, it seems he is trying to prove he still matters.