Crossing Legal Boundaries in Defence of the State
Edited by Aniceto Masferrer and Clive Walker
Chapter 4: Myths and misunderstandings about security, rights and liberty in the United Kingdom
This chapter looks at the relationship between national security, human rights and civil liberties in the United Kingdom under the successive Labour governments in power from 1997 to 2010. It examines the idea that national security and human rights are in a ‘trade-off’ situation: that national security can only be increased by a reduction in rights, or that protecting rights makes the state less able to defend citizens’ security. It examines this debate after 2001 during the UK’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’. The chapter makes a number of points about this ‘trade-off’ debate. The first is that both sides of the debate have often used an exaggerated and unhelpful language. For example, the Labour governments, particularly in the period from 2001 to 2007, used intense and intolerant language to describe the threat faced by UK society and the need for a response. After that period, the government itself stated that it would stop using the term ‘war on terror’ because it was inappropriate. On the opposing side, civil liberties groups in the UK sometimes made inappropriate comparisons between the UK and Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, as shall be discussed. More generally, some critics implied Britain was moving towards a type of authoritarian state when in fact the situation was much more balanced: the agencies involved in counter-terrorism were more accountable than ever before and the main problems were, for example, the growth in surveillance generally (often in the private sector) rather than that connected to counter-terrorism.
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