Counter Terrorism and Civil Liberties

Democracy is a form of government that allows legitimate participation of the citizens in the governance. It is also seen as the one that is meant to serve the good for all citizens. Democratic institutions in their formation are meant to derive their mandate from the citizenry, often through the use of free and fair elections that are held on a regular basis (Page & Greenberg, 2014). It is assumed that the government or institutions that do not serve the needs and protect the rights of citizen should be disbanded or replaced. With the general ratification of the UN human rights, democracies are finding themselves with the need to fulfil the abovementioned functions also in relation to immigrants. Regular elections especially when done fairly are an effective way of ensuring that that the will of the citizens will take center stage in governance. However, actions such as Magna Carta in England in the 13the century as well as the American struggle for independence in the 18th century shows that masses have to take extra ordinary measures to influence the form of governances that is effective to safeguard their rights as citizens. Thus, civil liberties become very important in this process. However, terrorists and other groups may abuse civil rights (Greenberg, 2013). This paper looks into how terrorism may limit the civil liberties enjoyed by citizens.

Although democracies depend on strong structures and institutions guaranteeing the representation of the will of people in any form of government, it also foresees other avenues through which institutions and the government systems can be removed or replaced in case they do not guarantee representation and effective participation of the electorate in government. This happens through the use of civil liberties. Loosely, civil liberties are what prevent governments from becoming tyrannical. Civil liberties refer to guarantees given by the government to their citizens regarding their freedoms’ space. The regime pledges to not abridge certain freedoms by either the law or judicial construal without following the right course. The specific liberties and the scope given by various national democracies vary. Among the most commonly referred, there are the freedom of expression, assembly, religion and security. Additionally, many nations guarantee that their citizens are free from being tortured, the press is not censored, and that each person is treated equally by the law (Page & Greenberg, 2014).


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The US and many other democracies from all across the world are trying to ensure that their citizens enjoy their civil rights and liberties. However, terrorists have become the major abusers of civil liberties (Motley, 1983). For instance, the freedom to privacy given by many of progressive democracies in the world enables terrorists to plan and coordinate their attacks as the same laws meant for the citizens protect the radicals. They also use their freedom of assembly to initiate, train, and coordinate terrorists’ cells to launch attacks on the population and the governments. Others especially faith-based terrorist groups use their freedom of expression to preach and spread fundamentalist beliefs as well as hate against democratically elected governments in addition to their citizens. In most cases, terrorists attempt to use fear to seek recognition with the ultimate aim of gaining power by illegitimate means. The current terrorist organizations in the world have used the above methods to gain territory and continue to expand their dominance. In the US, as well as in other western states such as France and Spain, they have abused civil liberties in an attempt to seek recognition or coarse governments to take a certain stand.

If countries such as the US, France, the UK, Spain, and Russia do not take caution, the civil liberties enjoyed by the citizens could be lost or eroded. For instance, the government can collectively abolish the freedoms of expression to eliminate radicalization and preaching of fundamental doctrines by some religious organization. Similarly, the governments may indiscriminately infringe on the right to privacy while trying to investigate or preempt a terror threat.  Law enforcement agencies have in some times been seen to take measures that are discriminatory in nature where representatives of some tribes, race, and ethnic groups, such as South Asians and Muslims especially of Arab origin, have been unlawfully arrested and detained (Makarychev & Orttung, 2006).

After the September 11 attack, the US was seen to take steps that were in their outward appearance meant to curb terrorism in the future. However, enforcement of these measures has left freedoms for the citizen in a volatile position; it would no longer be possible to guarantee some liberties. There needs to be a balance between protecting citizens and giving them their rights. As the government try to enhance its spying capabilities, laws have been passed allowing federal agencies to read personal emails, scan people’s web searches and even intrude into people’s home without their knowledge. That on itself is a major infringement of civil liberties. Other areas of encroachments on human rights that are allowed by these laws include indefinite detentions of legal migrants who have stayed in the US for a long time (Darmer & Fybel, 2011).

The Anti-Terrorism Act gave the police and the federal agencies the power to make impromptu searchers on suspects while the warrants for such actions are delayed or given later. There are also more strict searches conducted on travellers to prevent terrorists from spreading anthrax, a trend that began with al Qaeda back in 2002/2003 (Darmer & Fybel, 2011). Despite all the moves around the breach of the constitution, it is presumed that the suspect is guilty even without trial (Greenberg, 2013). The privacy of masses has been and continue to be infringed on without any potential limit, which is undesirable. The general or close participation of the judiciary lacks in such acts. While federal agencies continue to increase their espionage and infiltration capabilities, there is a high potential for misuse and abuse of such laws by the current and the future governments. For instance, the government may prevent the general populace from discussing the issues of governance or dissenting peacefully if they do not agree with the regime or the institutions of the day. This can be done under the pretense of terror suspicion. In today’s online meeting platforms, the federal government can crack down on people discussing governance issues and expressing displeasure with the government still on the pretext of preempting terror threats. Indefinite detention without trial is another area that could be utilized by the government to suppress citizens’ expression of their will (Page & Greenberg, 2014).

Generally, there needs to be the participation of the judiciary in every process to ensure that many anti-terror laws does not infringe on civil liberties. A court of law has to ascertain that a certain citizen or immigrant qualifies as a suspect and that there are enough grounds for spying on him or her. The research shows that around 0.5 percent of impromptu searches were fruitful while the rest were done on people that were not terrorists or criminals, and buildings in which no weapons were stored (Greenberg, 2013). Such laws are capable of reducing the quality of preemptive investigations done by federal agencies putting the public at higher risks of the attacks. The bottom line was that the citizens flouted the civil liberties (Page & Greenberg, 2014).

Basically, such laws seem like blanket condemnation of the masses and reduce the effectiveness and scope in which the citizens and their governments can effectively collaborate in keeping their country safe. The government is seen as being coercive and not as being law-abiding. Citizens and immigrants are the victims as the police or federal agencies can search any premises without any legal clearance or consequences. Additionally, the realization that the federal representatives read people’s emails and other forms of private information cannot foster a good citizen-government collaboration.

Although there is fear and threat of terrorism in the US as well as other countries, the government should not seem to look for hasty solutions. It should not pass laws that are retrogressive and would return the world to the days of tyrant rulers. There is a need for the government, federal agencies, citizens, and innovators to devise ways and technologies that can be used to effectively preempt terror threats. The federal government on its end should focus on the investigation of suspected terrorists rather than profiling citizens on the basis of their racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds (Page & Greenberg, 2014).

In summary, terrorists abuse citizens’ civil rights to thrive. For instance, they use their freedom of assembly to establish terrorists’ cells, freedom of expression to spread ethnic and religious hatred; and right to privacy to plan, coordinate, and execute terror attacks. While this is undesirable, most of the counter measures taken by governments threatens the civil liberties of the citizens and may be misused by some leaders. Laws and institutions established to counter terrorism have potential to infringe on civil rights if adequate safeguards are not designed and utilized. Since the number of terrorists is small in a large population, especially in the US, the laws to counter them could be applied to many people. Consequently, it causes many instances of rights abuses as the governments try to guarantee the security of the citizen.

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