Anti-terrorism policies are controversial and difficult to approach for two reasons, the first being the public demand for the government to strengthen their to terrorism in the wake of its rise and the second being the opposition of certain civil liberties being renounced as a result of policy change (Crenshaw, 2010). When analysing the changes in counterterrorism policies it can be acknowledged that, in the eyes of the government, the limitation of liberty is deemed acceptable when there is a substantial threat to a nation’s security (Aradau, 2008). Although, some academics, too, believe that some curtailment of certain civil liberties is appropriate to an extent when faced with exercising antiterrorism policy making (Waldron, 2003).

It can be debated that security and liberty are not at odds with each other, as an increased security in response to terrorism would insinuate an increase in safety for citizens, so whilst there is a restriction to their liberties they would be able to live more freely, in the terms of feeling safe in their country, in return (Pantazis and Pemberton, 2012). Gunther (2005) expands this view in stating that society tends to accept the restriction of liberties as they offer the outcome of security to ‘good’ members of society and that due to this they have reason to believe that as ‘good’ members they will not be affected negatively by any restrictions, in comparison to those deemed ‘evil’.

Although, this idea that ‘good’ members of society would not be affected negatively can be immediately challenged by the abuse of counterterrorism police powers in the UK that have irrefutably been used disproportionately against the Muslim population (Pickering et al., 2008). This raises concerns about racial profiling and the immediate stripping of liberties of one ethnic group in comparison to another. Research carried out by Pantazis and Pemberton (2012) found whilst there was public support for the rebalancing of liberty and security, at the interest of more security, their data highlighted support from a substantial number of ethnic minorities in favour of maintaining these civil liberties. These findings suggest that security and liberty are at odds with each other but only in relation to certain ethnic groups, for example, it can be identified that British Muslims are those being targeted by counterterrorism policies thus they are having their liberties stripped and are voicing against this; whilst the majority White British population are content with the rebalancing of security and liberty as they are not being targeted.

Arguably the most controversial of the counterterrorism police powers in the United Kingdom were those permitted under sections 41 to 47 of the Terrorism Act (2000:11), with the stop and search powers being most notable. The stop and search powers under section 43 of the Terrorism Act allowed for an officer to stop and search someone who they suspect to be a terrorist in order to discover anything in their possession which may insinuate that they are a terrorist. As previously mentioned, by Pickering et al. (2008), these are powers that were used disproportionately against British Muslims despite there being no statistical link between ‘psycho-sociological features, nationality or birthplace and the risk of terrorism’ (Hayes, 2005, cited in Pickering et al., 2008). Notably in the year 2009-2010 of the 102,504 stop and searches and arrests the police carried out under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, only 2 resulted in a terrorism related arrest, this only equates to 0.002% of the stop and searches and arrests made (Home Office, 2011:4).

In schedule 8 of the Terrorism Act (2000:11) it stated that after an unwarranted arrest of a suspected terrorist the pre-trial detention period was listed as a maximum of seven days, although upon amending the act in 2006 Section 23 now states that the maximum period extended to twenty-eight days (Terrorism Act, 2006:11, Allen and Dempsey, 2017). It can be argued that this section of the act breaches the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) that was put in to place to prevent an unlawful detention or imprisonment.

The use of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Terrorism Act 2006 is just one example of the degradation of freedom that is a direct result of the government’s efforts to fight terrorism through counterterrorism policies, showing that security trumps liberty, even if that is only the liberty of minorities who are unfortunately vulnerable to this state scrutiny that does not appear to pertain to the rest of society. Many scholars note that much of this scrutiny emerged post September 11 attacks that caused these security discourses, although this it another instance of the mobilization of civil liberties as a justification for counterterrorism policies (Jabri, 2006; Aradau, 2008; Dragu, 2011; Jacobson, 2006; Pavone et al., 2016)

Schmid (1993) states that some terrorists and terrorist organisation tend to dwell in liberal democracies to grow their numbers and communicate both locally and globally there due to the fact they can take advantage of the civil liberties available. One instance of this theory being prevalent in the real world is that following the arrest of two terrorists in America, (then) Secretary of Justice, John Ashcroft, declared that “they took advantage of the freedoms of an open society to foster and finance acts of terror” (Justice Department, 2004).  It can be argued that this is why security and liberty should be at odds with one another, despite whether they are or not, because the civil liberties of western societies have been taken advantage of continuously.  

As the world is progressing rapidly through the internet age, counterterrorism operations have advanced alongside it and now allow intelligence services to intercept communications, retain data, mine data and access third party information such as financial records, transactions and purchases (Dragu, 2011). Whilst this may seem like a lot of information the general public would not want the government having access to, policies had to change to enhance government body capabilities and shift the focus from punishing to preventing in the wake of large scale terrorist attacks (Jacobson, 2006).

Dragu (2011) argues that due to these changes and the rise in terror attacks, societies should accept that their privacy is going to be more exposed to the government and invasive surveillance will be more prevalent as a means to prevent more large scale attacks. Though such measures have proven successful, UK defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, revealed that intelligence services were successful in foiling over 12 terror plots in 2016 (Lusher, 2016).

Contradictory to the previously mentioned research in this essay on the public support towards ceding a certain level of liberty in order to increase security in the war on terrorism (Pantazis and Pemberton, 2012; Gunther, 2005), Garcia and Geva (2016) found that the public is not considerably more willing to the relinquishing of civil liberties upon experiencing a threat to national security threat in the face of terrorism. In addition to this, they found that the level of threat does not affect the publics’ opinions in favour of invasive counterterrorism policies and that the public are likely to support policies that reduce civil liberties only when they are perceived to be effective in preventing future acts of terrorism.

This raises the question of how did the public opinion seem to change so drastically? In response to this, it could be suggested that upon the level of security and surveillance techniques becoming more intense and intrusive (Dragu, 2011; Lowe, 2016), the public naturally became more opposed to the concept as much of their data has the potential to be open to surveillance. Although, it could also be due to differing understandings of the term ‘liberty’. Waldron (2003) examines 3 ways in which the term civil liberties can be understood, a standard understanding that signifies certain freedoms which, it is argued, the government should not restrict