Civil Liberties and Counter-Terror: In Megacities, the Latter Wins Out

In the post-9/11 era, there has been a perpetual struggle for governments to both protect citizens from terrorism and honor cherished civil liberties.

In small cities, balancing citizens’ freedoms and government protection can be easily achieved. Without the looming threat of terrorist activity, there is less ambiguity of where civil liberties end and effective prevention begins. However, the real or perceived dangers to target-rich megacities such as London and New York are too great to leave any technological advancement unused. These cities must take all legal precautionary measures to protect its citizens, for the backlash of not employing every tactic in the wake of a catastrophic terror event is too great.

 In the months and years following September 11, counterterrorism and homeland security became buzzwords in law enforcement circles, where preventing the next surprise attack trumped all civil liberty concerns. Cities worldwide have since begun to develop security rings around high-risk areas that include both police personnel and sophisticated monitoring technology.  These “rings” are modeled after London’s “Ring of Steel,” designed in the 1990s to thwart bombings by the Irish Republican Army.

 Today, London’s “Ring of Steel,” the global paradigm for wall-to-wall security, employs license plate recognition cameras, an extensive closed-circuit television system and physical barriers to thwart terrorism. London’s comprehensive security system, which includes some one million cameras throughout the City, has been attributed with both connecting important intelligence pieces that proactively fight terrorism and decreasing overall street crime.  

 In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled across the Atlantic to learn more about London’s terror-prevention tactics, especially the city’s “Ring of Steel.” New York’s “Lower Manhattan Security Initiative,” a $200 million project, is similar in structure to the London model. Launched in August 2008, this “ring” relies on 3,000 public and private surveillance cameras, an intricate “dirty bomb” detection system and 100 license plate readers to monitor suspicious activity both in lower Manhattan and in Midtown. These areas have both been sites of attacks (the foiled Times Square bombing in 2010) and continue to be high-profile targets.

 Many, in both England and the U.S., believe that these tactics are overzealous, poorly regulated and an infringement on civil liberties.  In England, where some four million closed circuit television cameras are currently in operation, a handful of civil liberties groups have cautioned that the country is at-risk for devolving into a police state; these groups note that the average Londoner is filmed on surveillance cameras approximately 300 times a day. Stateside, to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 the ACLU released an extensive report titled “A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties 10 Years After 9/11,” with a chapter dedicated to combating “a massive and unchecked surveillance society.”

 Yet, in an age where the global terrorism network is abuzz with activity and the threat of domestic terrorism still lingers, governing bodies and police forces in high profile areas have chosen, most believe wisely, to utilize all of the tools in their technological arsenal. Without these mechanisms in place, these global icons and societies as a whole are at an enormous risk, a risk that could seriously hinder growth and development and jeopardize countless lives. 

Photo Credit: Zero One

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Danielle Schlanger

Graduate student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

MORE FROM

Protesters reportedly arrested near NYC's Stonewall Inn, Pride March endpoint

The reason for the arrests were not immediately known.

Marchers arrested in Istanbul as Pride parade continues despite cancellation

The organizers' decision to move forward with the previously cancelled march led to clashes with police.

Car slams into Eid celebrants in UK, injuring 6; police say terrorism isn't suspected

Police say they believe an Eid celebrant was behind the wheel of the car that injured six outside a mosque.

Oil truck explodes in Pakistan, killing at least 153

The deadly fire broke out as residents rushed to collect the leaking oil from the overturned tanker.

Will Justice Anthony Kennedy retire at end of Supreme Court term? Here's what we know.

Rumors that the 80-year-old swing justice may leave the bench are fueling fear of a second Trump pick on the nation's high court.

3 states and D.C. allow same flammable building materials behind Grenfell Tower fire

The causes of London's Grenfell Tower are similar to the justifications used to waive fire regulations in the U.S.

Protesters reportedly arrested near NYC's Stonewall Inn, Pride March endpoint

The reason for the arrests were not immediately known.

Marchers arrested in Istanbul as Pride parade continues despite cancellation

The organizers' decision to move forward with the previously cancelled march led to clashes with police.

Car slams into Eid celebrants in UK, injuring 6; police say terrorism isn't suspected

Police say they believe an Eid celebrant was behind the wheel of the car that injured six outside a mosque.

Oil truck explodes in Pakistan, killing at least 153

The deadly fire broke out as residents rushed to collect the leaking oil from the overturned tanker.

Will Justice Anthony Kennedy retire at end of Supreme Court term? Here's what we know.

Rumors that the 80-year-old swing justice may leave the bench are fueling fear of a second Trump pick on the nation's high court.

3 states and D.C. allow same flammable building materials behind Grenfell Tower fire

The causes of London's Grenfell Tower are similar to the justifications used to waive fire regulations in the U.S.