The question of where to draw the line between concern for human rights and the need to protect the U.K. from terrorists has been quite perplexing over the past five years. Many have argued that Britain's Human Rights Act has undermined the government's ability to fight terrorists and essentially shackles the country in the face of a home-based terrorist threat. At the same time, Great Britain has been assailed as having taken the most steps to curtail basic civil rights of any country in Europe since September 11. Striking the right balance between preserving a free and open society and securing the nation has been difficult, to say the least. The al Qaeda bombings of July, 2005 have made achieving this balance even more difficult.
Terrorism has forced the countries of the free world to closely reevaluate the values upon which their societies and governmental systems are based. The question of how much curtailing of civil rights is acceptable in the face of this 21st Century threat is one that calls upon all free countries, Britain included, to consider and pronounce to the world how committed they really are to the fundamental values they have professed for so many centuries. The extent to which countries such as Great Britain and the United States are willing to curtail human rights and civil liberties is arguably evidence of the extent to which the terrorists have succeeded in defeating liberty around the world.
Britain's Balance between Human Rights and Security
Britain's response to the September 11 attacks was almost immediately to sacrifice human rights in favor of security. The U.K was cited by Amnesty International as the "only European country to breach basic human rights by detaining suspected terrorists without trial" ("Amnesty Singles Out Britain," 2002, para. 2). At issue was the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, which led to eleven terrorism suspects to be detained without being charged or otherwise afforded due process under the law. The law "enables Britain's police to detain indefinitely and without trial any non-U.K. citizen suspected of terrorism who can't be deported, because of fears the suspect would be executed or tortured in his home country" (Champion, 2001, para. 2). In addition, the law "will enable law-enforcement agencies to access individual tax, customs and financial records to track suspects; require airlines and other carriers to supply passenger and freight manifests; and enable police to freeze a suspect's bank accounts as soon as an investigation begins, among other new powers" (para. 12). This willingness to suspend civil liberties in the face of a potential security threat has been considered problematic from the standpoint of adhering to the liberal democratic values that have been the foundation of the country's governmental system.
Among the many measures adopted by Britain in the wake of September 11 were the ability to "detain foreign nationals who cannot be deported to a safe third country for an indefinite period without trial," the imposition of restrictions on the press "to prevent them reporting matters deemed to be helpful to potential terrorists, such as the movement of nuclear material," a "requirement for Internet service providers to retain Internet and e-mail traffic for 12 months, and a provision to allow the