The false trade-off between security and liberty

The proponents of this resolution have impressed us all with their passion and principle. Their good faith is manifest. Yet this resolution itself is a trick. There are exceptions, but it’s a reliable general rule that those in British society most hostile to counterterrorism policing are most sympathetic to—or at least indulgent of—those other forms of policing that most immediately and dangerously invade traditional British freedoms. In some cases, in fact, those who object to counterterrorism policing object precisely because the counterterrorists are working to prevent them from attacking the rights of others: the right to speak freely, the right to deny religious dogma, even the mundane right to sell a bowl of breakfast cereal without having one’s restaurant trashed.

By contrast, the security measures adopted by the British government to protect its people from terrorism are reasonable, minimally intrusive, and appropriate to the scale of the threat. They are not sacrifices of liberty. They are bulwarks for liberty—bulwarks against the would-be totalitarians of our time.

There’s an inherent asymmetry in discussing counterterrorism. It becomes tragically obvious when you do too little: bombs explode, people die. But when you are doing it right, your very success opens doubts about whether your efforts were ever necessary in the first place.

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