Jun 25, 2018 in Political

National Security and Civil Liberties

To really understand the objective of this paper, we need to define clearly the difference between national security and civil liberties. National security according to Wikipedia can be defined as the requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic, military and political power and the exercise of diplomacy whereas civil liberty can be defined as the rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery and forced labor, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to privacy, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and the right to marry and have a family. In this paper, we want to mainly observe and discuss if there exists any balance between national security and civil liberties in the United States and what are some of the reasons for the balance if it is there and also discuss if the two can reinforce each other.

The whole concept of national security was formulated after the World War II so as to protect the interest of the Americans especially that of the military. With the advancement in technological development, education and even the economy, the issue of national security escalated from only protecting the military but also was intertwined into the above advancements as the belief was that for the country to continue forward, it needed economic security, energy security and environmental security among many others. In the call for national security, the focus not only shifted from other nation states posing a threat but also from within the nation itself as it was observed there were parties who were a threat to the continuity of the nation.

Civil liberty has been there since time immemorial and its main reason is to protect the individuals within the nation or give them a right or the space to conduct some matters. In the United States civil liberties have been integrated into the constitution while others are developed in policies (Kronin, 2002). Such examples of civil liberties included in the bill of rights are the freedom to speech, freedom to worship and protection against unreasonable arrest and search. All these liberties accorded to the citizens helps foster a civil and democratic nation as the citizens experience a sense of freedom.

It has been observed that with the onset of increasing national threat, it has reached a point where national security has become of great concern and this has led to the concerned parties infringing the civil liberties accorded to the citizens of the nation all in the interest of national security. This therefore implies that the role of national security is a very fragile issue within the democracy and therefore a balance should most likely be struck between the two. However, this is not the case in the United States as at utmost there is no balance between the two, which is national security and civil liberties. Even though the objective of the government is to protect and secure its citizens and the country as a whole against threats it should therefore recognize that it should be fair when making of the policies so as to prevent infringing of the peoples liberties.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks, the government took measures to curb the rise in national threat making national security a central focus of its functions. Some of the policies they implemented or ratified in the aim of national security were seen to infringe on the civil liberties accorded to its citizens and this has been subjected to a lot of criticism from rights activists. Such an example was the implementation of the USA Patriot Act which gives law enforcement agencies more authority to search an individual’s records such as telephone, e-mail communication, financial and medical records. This is seen as infringing of a citizen’s right to privacy. This infringement on human rights was also seen during the civil wars, World War I and II as the government would restrict rights such as the freedom to speech and of the press so as to evade the criticism of their involvement in the wars from the citizens (Philip, 2011).

The issue of civil rights and values conflict has been the main contributor to the criticisms on the government as the citizens have a parallel view of the whole situation. The conflict of values arises from the form in which the counterposing of the individual’s support for civil liberties against governmental efforts to provide for the safety and security of the masses takes shape. This is well demonstrated in that citizens will strongly believe in freedom of association and speech but on the other hand, they will want protection from the government against those who misuse the freedom to pose a threat to the nation. As a result, the government will put into place measures to curtail such practices to protect the citizens but to the citizens, it will appear that the government is restricting their rights and thus a conflict arises between the balance of national security and civil liberties.  

According to Cronin, in order to grant the ability for a person to practice free speech and the free participation in civil society, the state must implement certain measures to undermine the intentions of the rogue states even individuals. This statement clearly shows that it is correct for the government to infringe on civil liberties but it should be noted that a lack of balance between the national security and civil liberties cannot lead to a democratic state which is being perpetuated by the government. This was stated vividly by Locke John when he argued that one of the fundamental principles of a liberal democracy is the protection of necessary freedoms and liberties. And, liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and the right to vote, provide a strong foundation on which to build a liberal democratic state.

For a balance to be striked between the national security and civil liberties, there should be established or exist a trade off between the two aspects. What causes a clash between the individual and the government is not necessarily the order but the manner used by the government when conducting its activities in providing national security. As it is the duty of the government to look after the citizens rights and protect them, so is it the duty of the citizens to also help the government perform its duty by being able to provide necessary information that may deem useful for national security.

Furthermore, in the context of balancing these two, citizens have to forfeit some of their civil liberties for the sake of national security as threat to national security has been on the rise.  An example is the wire-tapping of citizens phone conversations without their knowledge. Individuals should forego such a civil right for the sake of national security.This is easier said than done as this is seen as the infringement of the freedom to privacy. But for the sake of national security, the citizens should be made aware that it is for their own good that they need to forego some of the rights as this will help the government protect them even better than before. With such knowledge and awareness, then we can accept that the balance between the two can be created.

If not carefully implemented, civil liberties and national security can be at logger heads with each other. This is so because as mentioned earlier, the issue of civil liberties is intricate and therefore should be carefully handled. Civil liberties define people and also their democracies and therefore anything that tries to undermine its value is met with resistance from the masses. For instance, the use of torture to obtain information is viewed as abuse of the civil liberties and such measures taken by the government are not acceptable.

In addition, race and ethnicity also influences the readiness of trading off civil rights for national security. The racial profiling observed in the nation has resulted into a few communities feeling stereotyped and this has resulted into hostility from the communities and the end effect is that they feel their freedom to association has been denied to them. For example, African Americans may be reluctant to concede rights that they have worked very hard to achieve and to empower a government in which they have little confidence, even for the sake of national security (Davis 20).

Education is an important aspect in the development and shaping of the importance of civil liberties in the nation. It is used to emphasis on the importance of civil liberties in the human society. But with the increased threat on national security education has taken a different turn in that it is not clear what it propagates anymore in terms of civil liberties. Education has lead to stereotyping of some communities as it focuses on certain communities. As in the case after the terrorist attacks, the Muslim community was really stereotyped and this was also propagated in education leading to the segregation of the Muslim community. This stereotyping therefore leads the collision of the two aspects. Also, it is observed that those who are more educated will understand that civil liberties cannot be absolute and that restrictions are essential so as to provide security to the citizens (Gibson, 573).

In conclusion we see that national security is of major importance for the citizens of the nation and therefore it is the role of the government to ensure that they provide the security without interfering with the civil rights in place. In this paper, we clearly see that there is no balance between the two; civil liberties and national security as the government to some extent has taken actions without the regard of civil rights all in the name of national security. We observe that citizens right to privacy, freedom to speech and association and also the freedom to free press have been violated by the government (Davis, 21).

Although the issue of balancing the two aspects is a complex and intricate one, we observe that the citizens to some extent are willing to concede some of their civil liberties in order to bring about security for them and to the nation as a whole. Such an act by the citizens allows the bringing of a balance between the aspects though not in totality. Civil rights at some points either reinforces the national security or they are at odds. Finally, we can conclude that there is no balance between national security and civil liberties in the United States but a balance can be created if both the government and the citizens are willing to do a trade-off between the two. There can exist a balance.

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