National Security and Civil Liberties: Can you have your cake and eat it too?

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  It is safe to say, however, that Franklin lived in a very different America.  He resided in an era where the biggest threat to freedom was the British Redcoats who made themselves visible and identifiable in their bright red uniforms.

But today, over 200 years after Franklin, the United States is fighting Al-Qaeda through ever-expanding technological developments.

With a complete disregard for the rules of war, Al-Qaeda camouflages itself among the very people that it intends to destroy. It is a terrorist group that acts with the force of a state but is not backed by any governmental power, consequently depleting any ability for the US to solve the issue in a diplomatic fashion.  Al-Qaeda targets innocent civilians and has vowed to continue doing so until their goals are met.

In their responsibility to protect American lives, the US has made every attempt to capture Al-Qaeda operatives who live within the confines of the state and disguise themselves as law-abiding citizens.  The government realized very quickly that obtaining intelligence would be an important weapon in finding Al-Qaeda supporters.  However, gaining intelligence has become notoriously synonymous with violating the civil liberties of individuals.

In the pursuit of information, phone wires of innocent people have been tapped, racial profiling has been executed, and US Citizens with Middle Eastern backgrounds have been prohibited the right to move from one country to another.  This has all translated to American’s as a direct threat from the very government that is supposed to protect, as more and more American’s are afraid.

Ten years later, the US has sustained another 9/11-like terrorist attack.  But more and more Americans are becoming aware of their vanishing civil liberties, as this war on terror has reached its tenth anniversary.

An important question has taken to rise in the past ten years; should individuals forego Franklin’s advice and be okay with surrendering civil liberties in exchange for national security? It is no question that a threat like Al-Qaeda has never before existed in its current ability to extrapolate terror.  Or, can the state work to ensure security and maintain civil liberties-can American’s have their cake and eat it too?

About Dallas Gingles

STU Graduate
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