Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.4.2 Section 10: Security impacts on civil and human rights in Britain

Historian Timothy Garton-Ash states:

Our liberties are under threat from two sides. They are threatened by terrorists, especially takfiri jihadist ones, exploiting new technologies and an open society in order to kill, maim and terrify the innocent. And they are endangered by overreaction from the state, eroding those liberties in the name of defending us against these threats. Taken to the extreme, that means strangling freedom to save it. We have to balance our policies to defend against both dangers.

(Garton-Ash, 2008)

The war on terror and developments since 9/11– reinforced by 7/7 – have had distinct (if mixed and controversial) consequences for British society and its constituent groups. Similarly, the legislation and legal changes these developments gave rise to had diverse consequences for civil and human rights in Britain. Some people have seen the legislative and legal response as a natural and acceptable consequence of a manifest terrorist threat. Others have interpreted them as unacceptable infringements on established civil and human rights and a distinct threat to the democratic principles and practices that have become deeply embedded in British society.

According to the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, ‘police data ... suggests there are currently [in the UK] at least 2000 known terrorist suspects, 200 organised networks and 30 terrorist plots’ (Brown, 2008). The government is obliged to protect the public and ‘match a change in our laws with stronger safeguards, so we protect both the civil liberties of the individual and the security needs of all individuals’ (ibid).

Section 10 spells out the nature of the British government’s response to the terrorist attacks, the legal changes and legislation that has been enacted, and the implications of these developments for human rights in Britain. Are our freedoms being eroded by the war on terror? Critics of the government’s approach suggest that new legislation and the introduction of new surveillance techniques are indeed endangering the privacy of British citizens.

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