re: U.K. 'Big Brother' Bill Blocked -- For Now
"Those who would trade essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" is one of the most commonly quoted versions. There are a lot of slight variations, and some disagreement regarding when the sentiment was originally expressed (but as far as I know, there isn't much disagreement that Franklin originated the saying).
A government's ability to monitor citizens is an interesting and important question, no matter whether we're talking US, UK, or any other nation. A lot of our notions about liberty were established in a dramatically different technological era-- long before concepts like cyber-terrorism, hacking, dirty bombs, nuclear arms races, and the like could have been foreseen. There have always been terrorists and tyrants, but their ability to inflict damage has increased exponentially over time. Their ability to do so discretely has also increased in some ways, though intelligence technology has compensated to an extent. Does this mean we hold true to Franklin's words? Or does this mean we need to make some concessions in light of current threats? Can such concessions be made without sending society down a slippery and dangerous slope? It's a complicated problem. and not one that gets debated appropriately.
Many U.S. media personalities and politicians, for example, respond much differently to domestic terrorists (who are statistically more likely to kill you) than to foreign terrorists, making clear the extent to which national security conversations are muddied by other agendas and trends. Whenever something happens, xenophobia and racism square off against political correctness and anti-colonialism. It happens in lots of ways: immigration policy debates encroach on our analysis of terrorism responses; economic motives obfuscate where the military industrial complex and corporate interests end and where necessary protections for individual citizens begin; etc. And then there's the ratings/ sensationalism issue for the media, and the "tell my constituency what it wants to hear, even if I know it's wrong" attitude from politicians. It's hard for regular people to be responsible citizens when the core issue - already complicated - get diluted by all this other stuff.
You can throw a lack of government transparency in the trouble, too. Federal-level government stonewalling is somewhat easier to justify than media responses and Congressional grandstanding, I suppose (there are instances - a clear danger to the public, for example - in which the public still has a right to know, just not a right to know RIGHT NOW). But even so, so much stuff still gets sloppily thrown under the "classified for reasons of national security" catch-all.
The point of all that? It's a mess. Times change, and that might mean a pragmatic and thorough approach to national security has to change too. But we're not having reasonable debates about what our rights are expected to be, what they actually are in the government's eyes, and what they need to be. It's all obfuscated by tangential chatter. In some cases, such chatter is unavoidable because the topic is complicated. In many cases, though, the chatter emerges because someone is trying to hijack debate to serve a special interest. If you want to know why so many people are either political militants or so disenchanted that they just don't engage with the process at all-- just look to the system I'm describing. It cultivates feuding polarities, but not helpful conversations about the real problems.