Security and Freedom: You can’t affect one without affecting the other.

The words ‘freedom’ and ‘security’ are tricky. We rarely, if ever, actually refer to these ideas in their absolute sense. Consider the implications of both words, if they are fully consummated:

Total freedom (the complete absence of all restrictive parameters) ultimately looks like guerrilla warfare: there is nothing whatsoever to stop some vicious hooligans from beating you to a pulp and stealing all your property. Who will protect you from the hordes of lawless marauders in a world where it’s every man for himself? Freedom is chaos.

Total security (the all-pervasive enforcement of regulating parameters) ultimately looks like an Orwellian dystopia: choice and autonomy are stripped from individuals, and all behaviour is coordinated and monitored by a centralized authority structure. Surveillance, curfews, and strictly enforced codes of conduct keep everyone in line. Security is control.

When we combine freedom and security we create a fragile paradox. If we want the protection of the law, we need a government capable of enforcing law. But if a government is strong enough to assure that all citizens enjoy the protection of the law, then logically it must also be more powerful than the citizens themselves. Therefore, in the name of lawfulness and security, a state that can protect its citizens is inherently capable of stripping its citizens of their own liberties. To the extent that a state is powerful enough to provide security, it is also powerful enough to control its citizens.

Dictating, constraining, and limiting the power of government thus becomes an imperative for the protection of freedom itself. Liberal democracies address this challenge by relying on citizens to elect officials to temporary, limited terms of office. Constitutions often give explicit definition to the expectations of protection, right to security, and freedoms possessed by the citizens. Multi-layered bureaucracies and detached justice systems create complex systems of checks and balances. And, ultimately, failure to abide by the social contract will (so it is said) compel the populous to deny reelection to divergent rulers.

Beyond politics, the interplay of security and freedom is everywhere. To grant a child more freedom to explore the world means relinquishing an equal measure of the security that protects the child from harm. On the other hand, prosecuting nefarious users of the internet inherently curtails the privacy and freedom of all users. When it comes to freedom and security, it seems that it is impossible to adjust the allotment of one without consequently affecting the allotment of the other.

Today, when we say that we want freedom and security, what we mean is that we want an appropriate, mediating balance between them. Indeed, it is extremely dangerous to entertain the idea that one is ever more important than the other.

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