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Why we should abandon the balance metaphor: a new approach to counterterrorism policy / Stuart Macdonald

ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, Volume: 15, Issue: 1, Pages: 95 - 146

Swansea University Author: Stuart, Macdonald

Abstract

Contemporary discussions of counterterrorism policy tend to be dominated by the image of a set of scales. One pan contains security, the other contains liberty, and the task is to strike a balance between the two. This essay adds to existing critiques of this metaphor by focusing on its assumption t...

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Published in: ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law
Published: ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law 2009
Online Access: http://nsulaw.nova.edu/students/orgs/ILSAJournal/documents/15-1.pdf
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa5080
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Abstract: Contemporary discussions of counterterrorism policy tend to be dominated by the image of a set of scales. One pan contains security, the other contains liberty, and the task is to strike a balance between the two. This essay adds to existing critiques of this metaphor by focusing on its assumption that there is a shared understanding of what each of these pans represents. The essay argues that this results in a failure to engage with the variety of perspectives individuals hold on what the demands of security and liberty actually are and how these would best be met. For security, it results in a failure to distinguish between subjective and objective security. After using work from the fields of psychology and sociology to assert that new counterterrorism laws should not be enacted on the basis that they will make people feel safer, the essay explains that the metaphor’s simple invitation to decide what weight one attaches to security (relative to liberty) obscures the fact that individuals who attach the same weight to security may hold different views on the likely security benefits and costs (including opportunity costs) of a proposed counterterrorism measure. For liberty, the essay shows that for many disputed issues in contemporary counterterrorism policy the root cause of the contention is not different views on the weight of liberty (relative to security), but different views on three issues pertaining to the dictates of liberty: whether liberty requires an absolute prohibition on a power; the impact of a power on liberty; and whether safeguards are needed to regulate how a power is used. The essay concludes by advancing a new framework for the analysis of counterterrorism policy which is capable of opening up discussion of this variety of different perspectives.
Keywords: Anti-terrorism policy, security, liberty
College: Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law
Issue: 1
Start Page: 95
End Page: 146