The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center was an attack on a symbol of freedom and cooperation. Just a few days after the attack, the Security Council on behalf of the United Nations pushed through new terror legislation for all members. Without any debate, all the UN states got new laws concerning terrorism. For the following years, states have adopted further legislation that challenge some of the liberal democracy’s most fundamental principles.
The United Kingdom started with “Control orders” in 2005. This made it possible for the Home Secretary to set restrictions to single persons they had reasonable ground to suspect for terrorism. A new more moderate act has now replaced it, but still the secretary can impose restrictions like electronic tags, house arrest or constant monitoring. This does not need an approval by a court, but only the secretary’s “reasonable ground to believe”. The London bombings in 2005 also led to new anti-terrorism acts in UK. One part of this was the possibility to give people 28 days detention without any charge, and leading politicians have spoken for extending this to 90 days. Another part of the 2006 Acts is criminalization of terror glorification. The war against terror has primacy over important democratic principles for justice, and even the freedom of expression.
The UK is not alone in the questions of making controversial anti-terror laws. After the terror in Norway on July 22, 2011 a commission proposed five new laws to prevent terrorism, and two of those resulted in new legislation. It is now illegal to receive training that can possibly be used in terrorism, and to be a member of a terror organization. This may sound fair enough, but at the same time, it has some ambiguities. The difficulty of defining what kind of exercise, and which organizations are likely to use terror, can result in a suspicion based on political views or religious orientation. This could be a threat to real freedom of assembly and organizations.
The terror legislation is in many ways changing the way to look at criminal justice. Terrorism moves the policy from only judging actions that have happened, to actions that may happen. Previously only the initiate and the execute phase of an action were considered as criminal. Today it is also a crime to make agreements about, and prepare for criminality. Even if these steps may be necessary to prevent terrorism, it raises some important questions.
How many of our liberal values are worth sacrificing in the war against terror? Terrorism threats and attacks freedom and democracy. However, if our attempts in the war against terror means giving up the liberal principles we intend to protect, then we have already lost.
Benjamin Franklin said this in other words: “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”
Eirik Natlandsmyr is a comparative politics student at the University of Bergen, and currently a member of the International Committee of the Young Liberals of Norway. Twitter: @Natlandsmyr
For more information:
- Engene, Jan Oskar. 2013. “Mer overvåking, mer kontroll. Noen utviklingstrekk etter 22. juli. ” Tidsskrift for samfunnsforskning, 54 (2): 233–44
- BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24803069
- The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/jan/19/terrorism-act-2006