Would losing some civil liberties be a price worth paying for greater security?
The head of Britain's security service, MI5, has warned that some civil liberties may have to be sacrificed to defend people against terror attacks.
Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller said the world had changed and the dilemma was how to protect citizens within the rule of law.
Do you agree that some rights should be forfeited to ensure British people's safety? How far should freedoms be curtailed?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
It's a no-brainer really. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Better that we lose some of our apparent 'civil liberties' (which most people do not know exist or care about) than to let enemies of our state to thrive unhindered.
Peter, Guildford, UK
How about we get back to the punishment fitting the crime and to the law-abiding folk of this land having their civil liberties protected? Everything these days is geared to looking after those who break the law. Let's get back to the fair society we once were.
What an irony we have here, yet we don't even see it. The ultimate goal of the Islamic terrorists is to remove our democracy and cause us to live in a totalitarian regime. Our politicians' response to that threat has been to begin dismantling our democracy and implementing totalitarian measures.
Michael, York, UK
Why not just herd us all into easily patrollable camps? And maybe make us all wear coloured ID badges while you're about it? Our liberties must come first. Those responsible for our security are motivated less by civilised ideas than they are by bean-counting. They just want to make their task easier and cheaper. Well, tough. No freedom should be curtailed, ever.
Rob, London, UK
Rights come hand-in-hand with responsibilities. If people lived up to their responsibilities and stopped turning a blind eye to breaches then their rights would be preserved, but they don't, so the rights have to be curtailed.
Eddie, Buckingham, UK
If someone could tell me how the loss of civil liberties could help to control terrorism I'd have a serious think about it. Until that day comes then I will disagree with any attempt to remove them.
Amy, Hove, UK
So which civil liberties are we talking about here? The right to speak your opinion? The right to worship as you please? The right to object to government policies? Governments come and go but our essential rights should always remain. How long before people have to wear badges denoting their faith, or be punished by law? Sounds familiar.
Could those who say they'd rather run the risk of being blown up by terrorists than losing some sort of abstract freedom explain to the families who lost loved ones on 7/7 (as well as countless other atrocities) how this is a good thing? At least those imprisoned in Belmarsh (rightly or wrongly) get the chance to be reunited with their families.
John Cahill, London, UK
If fewer civil rights translates into a safer society, go for it.
Nivedita Nadkarni, Madison, USA
There have been numerous terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, a country with absolutely no civil liberties. The state there can seize anyone and torture them to death. If those sorts of powers don't help, what civil liberties can Tony take from us that will make us safer? Personally I would rather keep my rights and take the risk.
Richard Boesch, Xativa, Spain (ex UK)
We are heading for a police state under the illusion that we need to be protected from ourselves.
There is a fine balance between liberty and security, and it is entirely appropriate for that balance to occasionally be reassessed, when new threats emerge. What concerns me is that governments have a habit of hastily enacting unnecessarily draconian legislation, merely in order to be seen to be doing something. If I choose to surrender any of my liberties, I expect it to be for some useful purpose.
Simon Ball, Hatton, Derbyshire
To those people who claim that they have nothing to fear as they are law abiding citizens. What if there was circumstantial evidence that you committed a crime? No matter that you were innocent, and the evidence wasn't really good enough, with no right to trial you could be arrested anyway, as you fit the evidence best. This would also improve all of our statistics on crime, so everyone is better off, apart from you.
Chris, Romsey, Hants
This government has enough barristers to be able to make good watertight laws. If MPs spent more time in Parliament making good laws there is no reason that law abiding citizens should have their civil liberties eroded. The government should be the best minds in the land. If they are not, they should step aside for those who are. We want quality not quantity in our laws and MP's should do the job they are paid for. They could start with just six weeks annual holidays the same as most of the voters who put them there
To give up our rights, paid for with the blood of our ancestors, because we fear the tiny chance we may be killed by terrorists seems to me to be the ultimate cowardice. When I die, I will do so a free man.
A. Sweeting, Leicester, UK
Of course some rights will have to be temporarily forfeited if that's what it takes to ensure my, and my families rights to live safely in the UK. Charles Clarke says that the security services are 'watching' hundreds of people about whom they have suspicions. I think that if there is the slightest suspicion about someone then they should be 'quarantined' or deported. Hundreds of human lives saved are worth more than a few individuals 'rights'.
I would be happier if the authorities used their powers to reduce dangerous driving and pollution before worrying about terrorism!
Mark, Southampton, UK
Personally I would like Dame Eliza to explain just which civil liberties would be "eroded" in her plan? At the moment it is very generalised, and therefore sounds negative. And in regards to those who mentioned the 'if you've nothing to hide why should you worry' idea, in a true police state a crime might not be definable by today's standards. 'Thought Crime' anyone?!
S, Kent, UK
The issue is not so much the loss as the control over those extra government abilities. Any such extra ability should have a temporary nature and have meaningful accountability. Any attempt to instigate extra measures whilst forgoing such controls (look at the Regulations of Investigative Powers Act for an example) should be viewed with the utmost suspicion. If the motives are honest, accountability should be welcomed as a way of proving any measures are used as intended.
Peter, London, UK
My ancestors were happy to risk their lives in wars rather than live in a totalitarian state, and I would also rather do that, especially as I don't see any guarantees from God that having no rights equates with total security.
I would be happy to give up some civil liberties if this meant the prevention of terrorist attacks. However, when looking at terrorist attacks throughout the world, the prevalence of civil liberties seems to have little bearing on whether or not attacks takes place. It would therefore seem that giving up civil liberties is not the solution to the problem.
I wonder if those people saying they are "law abiding" and have nothing to hide think that way if they were ever arrested on a trumped up charge and detained for a few years without a trial.
Colin Brazier, Southsea, Hants.
This is easy, I value my life more than my freedoms and that's because I've lived in an environment where terror reigned and life became worthless!
This is a false choice, a classic politicians' con trick! Giving up civil liberties will not make us safer, only more controlled and afraid. The greatest threat to all of us is a state out of control. The freedoms we enjoy, of speech, of movement, of identity, of organisation, of trial by jury and the right to due process - these are the vital basis of our free society, won over centuries - we mustn't let them slip away through fear and suspicion, and a false promise of safety.
Ben Drake, York, UK
Is this democracy or dictatorship we're living in? To surrender our civil liberties now would mean victory for the terrorists. I am in no way willing to give up my rights and nor should anyone else be. What about the people who fought for their country in the two world wars? What we remember on November 11th each year is that these people died to protect the rights of the future generations.
Curtailing of freedoms does not mean giving in to terrorism. It means preventing terrorists from destroying the freedoms we do enjoy. Terrorists are all too willing to turn our freedoms against us and take advantage of them to lay waste to our way of life. I would prefer to have some freedoms curtailed slightly than allow terrorists to cause more incidents which will incite more fear. An ounce of prevention.
Martin, Bristol, UK
The social contract is open-ended and there will be ebb and flow. Pure freedom is anarchy and just as dangerous as total oppression. I cannot accept a digital world of absolutes; I must accept the analogue nature of life. If I must choose between a free voice and bread, I will have to see how hungry I am when that time comes.
Ken, Minnesota, USA
I would rather have a government that implements a foreign policy that doesn't give rise to terrorism. Then we could all be free people. We would have no enemies. We would have no terrorist threat. We would save billions of pounds every year that could be spent on the British people. We would not be hated around the world. How difficult would that be? Why are people so happy to curtail our freedoms rather than tackle the root cause of terrorism? Where was this threat prior to the Iraq war?
The American constitution (Bill of Rights) starts by saying that they believe in "inalienable" rights; that is rights which cannot be traded, sold, given up, removed, or in anyway weakened. I know the present US is maybe not the best example, but I would agree that in a free, democratic country, then civil liberties are not something that can be curtailed without the country no longer being free and democratic .
Jason LoCascio, Birmingham, West Midlands
Of course I value my rights however, I also value living in relative safety and security. Unfortunately, a society which is too "free" opens itself up to people with hate in their hearts who seek to harm others. Freedom does not mean a free-for-all with no restrictions whatsoever. A society must protect its citizens above all else.
Stella, Leeds, UK
I should be happy to give up some of my rights if they were directed at solving the problem. I would be horrified if I thought that these rights were being sacrificed over issues that attempt to draw the blame for a misguided war away from those who declared it and the mis-shapen propaganda used to hide the truth.
Nigel Darwent, Trinidad and Tobago
Living in a country that looks down on civil liberties although they call themselves democratically elected, I don't think the British know what they are putting themselves into if they allow their government to do the same to them. Resist it. Fight for your right. Don't throw away what you forefathers fought for, like we Nigerians have.
The fact that some of the freedoms we had, have already been taken away, also there are yet more are under threat, surely means that the terrorists have achieved their objective in some ways. Where do we end as we move closer and closer to Orwell's 1984? How can anyone trust any politician in light of all the intelligence or is it spin (sexed up or just plain lies who knows)? We have heard from our political leaders over the past couple of years.
William Moonie, Denny, Scotland
Isn't the purpose of terrorism to create fear? Isn't curtailing freedoms giving in to that fear? I thought we were not going to let the terrorists change us. No matter how many laws we pass, we can't control everything. We can give up our civil liberties, but it will not stop terrorism. It will only show the terrorists that what they do is working.
Matt, Boulder, CO, USA
I value my rights far more than I hold the opinion of a politician. I think the whole talk of loosing 'liberties' is an attempt by the government to make the terrorist threat seem far worse than it is.
Oliver Stieber, Newbury, England
I'd rather run a very small risk of being blown up than live in an Orwellian police state, thanks very much.
Chris, Cornwall, UK
However much I value my civil liberties I value my life more. If civil liberties are eroded to protect the life of British citizens, then so be it.
Bill Potter, Telford, England
Let's remember that 3,500 people die in road accidents each year, and that no matter how draconian the authorities get, they will never be able to prevent every act of terrorism. Therefore, to save a relatively small number of lives, tens of millions of us may lose hard-won civil liberties. This is totally unacceptable and will NOT prevent committed terrorists from taking lives. Meanwhile, we've lost our freedom.
Martin, London, UK
Sorry to state the obvious, but since when did the people have a choice on whether they give up their civil rights or keep them. The government and democracy always decides. The only choice we have is to either complain or live with it. Either way we will never be able to choose. I for one would live with it. As a law abiding citizen I would gladly have fewer civil rights if it meant I could live in a safe society away from barbaric murderers.
Anon, Birmingham, UK
Every piece of legislation should have built in to it measures to prevent the imposition of a tyranny and all the measures being introduced for this particular situation should automatically require a full parliamentary debate after two years before they can be renewed.
Keith, Rayleigh England
This country survived decades of "terror attacks" from the IRA without any "sacrifice" of civil liberties and should be able to deal with the current threat in the same way - or are MI5 and the rest of our so-called "security services" more incompetent and ineffectual now than they were in the 60s, 70s and 80s?
Adrian , Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
The problem is they introduce laws and change laws which are difficult to revert if the situation changes. Any change to rights should be for a certain length of time, no longer than 4 years at the very most, then the law reverts back to what it was. Look at pub hours, in the First World War the government brought in closing hours and we are still lumbered with them now, and it is so difficult to get rid of the ridiculous drinking laws. Just imagine how difficult it will be to regain our rights of liberty.
Jim, York UK
I don't think the majority of people would notice any loss of civil liberties. Why would your average person notice or really care about for example using phone tap evidence in court, if you have not done anything wrong what's the problem. People talk about the loss of free speech with the new terror laws, that is nonsense for one they are simply an extension of existing incitement to racial hatred laws. Secondly, I think people can easily see that praising suicide bombers is such incitement and is wrong.
Ben Hartley, Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Britain has already lost civil liberties all under the very noses of the British public. The fact is that draconian laws have already been introduced but are targeted at foreigners. The London bombings show that the threat is home-grown, and I imagine many of these policies will be directed at the British population now. Democratically, the people decide which of their human rights to sacrifice, but when was the last time the people had enough faith in this country's democratic process to actually use it?
Ibrahim, London, England, UK
The job of the security services is to protect both our lives and our liberties. If Dame Elza is saying she can only do one, then she is admitting she, and her contemporaries, are not up to the job? I reckon that is about the size of it, the various heads are just trying to justify their failings, as well as simplify their jobs. It is always easier for the security services in a Police State.
DRL, Milton Keynes, UK
Our hard-won liberties can be removed in the passing of a bill in Parliament. They took centuries to win and it will take decades at least to win them back. Once governments have the power they are notoriously reluctant to part with it. I would support such measures only if they have sunset clauses and only then if they are truly worthwhile.
David, Manchester, UK
I'd rather live in a near police state than suffer the inconvenience of my own untimely death (or anyone else's for that matter).
John, Southampton, UK
Our civil liberties are too high a cost to pay for the war on terrorism. The government are using fear to blow the threat of terrorism out of all proportion. You are far more likely to die in a car crash or a random act of street violence than in a terrorist attack. They say "well, if we had the powers to do this, then that wouldn't have happened." This is a poor excuse for their failing foreign and home policies, and laws which they do not enforce.
I have absolutely no problem with losing some of my civil liberties. I have never been in any trouble with the police and have absolutely nothing to hide. If the loss of liberties will save even a single life against terrorist, I for one am in total support.
I'm inclined to say that this is a bad move - the first step on the slippery slope etc. - but if it is to be considered I think that it would be advisable to put it to the people first, in the form of a referendum. After all, they're our rights aren't they?
Angharad, Bexhill-upon-Sea, England
British people just don't understand what rights mean. They are not consumer items that you either claim or trade away in some new Labour moral marketplace. The point of rights is that they represent the standards of behaviour we set for ourselves. We don't "sacrifice" our rights; we just make self-justifying excuses for no longer trying to behave in a civilised way.
John Souray, London, UK
There is a reason why civil liberties are meant to be immutable. If they could be given up because of a 'threat' all a would-be dictator would have to do is manufacture such a threat. Then BAM!, we are living in "1984". If we are at war, declare martial law until the threat passes. If the situation does not warrant this then regular law will suffice. After all, blowing up trains, buildings and people has always been illegal.
Gavin, Kirriemuir, Scotland
There is no need to sacrifice civil liberties if we enforce existing laws to their full extent and stop wheedling lawyers from deliberate misinterpretation of such laws.
Aren't we (the western world) supposed to be the guiding light to the rest of the world? Why would a third world country, or the followers of a religion want to emulate us, if we perpetuate the same reasons why they become extremists? Worldly wealth is nothing if it's not backed up by true freedom, of expression, of movement, of thought.
Kalle Helenius, Finland
I believe wholeheartedly that the interests of the state (as in the country at large, not the government) are paramount and if, in protecting them, the erosion of liberties is necessary, then so be it. The concept of 'rights' as in the USA cannot accommodate this belief, since they cannot be eroded so I will always consider the concept of 'freedoms' to be more appropriate. In short, individuals should be free to do what they want, unless the government says they can't do it, in the interests of the state as a whole.
Grav, Coventry, UK
You can forfeit as many rights as you like, it will have no effect on those it's intended for and simply make enemies of a great many other people, who feel that changes to our rights should never have happened. Perhaps the best way forward is to widen responsibility for an act by hash punishments for those involved, even by knowledge or association, regardless of degree!
Phill, London, England
People can readily give up their own civil liberties, so long as they are not ignorant or empowered enough to expect me to do the same ....
I've yet to hear one thing that I could do before 9/11 that the government no longer permit me to do. As far as I'm concerned I have lost none of my civil liberties. I'm prepared to give the police and the security services any help they need t protect us. I'm sure that most Brits would agree with this.
The major changes suggested for trials (eg the accused not being able to see the evidence against them, trials held in secret, etc) are worrying, but for me, more worrying are items like the ID Cards, GPS Transponders in every car, legislation to stop people campaigning outside parliament. The Government are chipping away at our liberties in some vain hope that we will think they are "doing something" to help the security situation, but if the terrorists are home grown, it simply isn't going to stop them anyway!
Andy Wood, UK (London)
The people who bang on about civil liberties are happy to sign away their anonymity and privacy for consumer credit agreements, but not, it seems, to protect the right to life.
If politicians make decisions, which later on result in danger to the people as a whole, do they then have the right to change laws which affect us to control the aftermath of their own errors. When are we going to have a system that calls politicians and lawyers to account to the same degree they are demanding of almost everyone else. Doctors, Teachers, The Police, The Public at large etc.
Tony, Gandia, Spain
If you permit civil liberties to be eroded, you have handed victory to the terrorists. Odd way to fight them and to hear a public servant to utter such a view is the most chilling thing I have ever read on this site.
Megan, Cheshire, UK
Nice of Dame Eliza to say what she said. But in a democracy, it is the people, not the civil servants who should decide what liberties we should have and not have.
Al in Glasgow is quite right, unfortunately we do not live in a true democracy. The people we elect to 'power' do not actually have the power, it is the unelected civil servants behind them that wield the real power.
Paul Cambell, Sheffield England
What people fail to realise is that we do not need to erode civil liberties to prevent terrorism. We simply need an ethical and just foreign policy.
This government has already eroded most of the rights and freedoms we as a democratic country once enjoyed. These rights and freedoms didn't come free it was paid for in blood, sweat and tears and should be fought to be preserved after all Mr Blair is not long past saying "You can't stop every terrorist attack" but what worries me, is so far they haven't stopped any. Leave our rights alone and do the job you were elected for without always having to make the people who elected you pay a price.
Alex Oliver, Blackpool
Definitely yes. And it's long overdue in coming.
S Gillies, Edinburgh
Western countries' obsession with individual rights has often been seen as a strength, but in the modern world it has become a weakness. When these rights were developed over the preceding centuries it was never envisaged that they would be exploited to shield those who wish to annihilate those very rights and the society that gave them birth. We should wake up and curtail some of the more excessive freedoms, in order to preserve those that are more fundamental.
If we give up any of our civil liberties, then the terrorists have already won.
Living in London and with sons using the Tube daily, my human right to be free of worry of them being blown to bits takes precedence over everything.
CC, London, UK
What price do you put on freedom and civil liberties? Ordinary men and woman in the past, have died to protect these liberties when they were threatened and we cannot give them up when we find ourselves in danger.
Maisie Gooch, Dorchester-On-Thames, UK
My simple answer to the question is no and freedoms should not be curtailed. There is no need to justify this answer; the onus is on those in power to justify why the current situation should change. I do not think they have done so and I am slightly worried by the current rush to remove freedoms during the current climate of fear.
James, Manchester, UK
Forfeiting our civil liberties will not stop terrorists from carrying out their activities. The bombing activities undertaken so far in this recent wave of terrorism have been carried out by British nationals who would have had perfectly legal identity papers. In any case, judging by previous attacks, especially those of 9/11, whatever nationality they might be suicide bombers are unlikely to bother with fake identities, since they don't plan surviving. If we give in and reduce our civil liberties, they will have already won.
Geraldine Messenbird Smith, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
It's that old 'if you've nothing to hide why should you worry' thing. Having said that I wouldn't like to have my door kicked down at four in the morning because I was in the 'wrong place at the wrong time'.
Dave Gillman, Bournemouth, UK
To quote the brilliant Benjamin Franklin "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security".
D Davies, Coventry, UK
What price do you put on freedom and civil liberties? Ordinary men and woman, in the past, have died to protect these liberties when they were threatened and we cannot give them up when we find ourselves in danger.
Craig McLeod, Paisley
That tired old excuse that "the world has changed" will never justify the giving up of civil liberty. One should remember that it was exactly in such times of political insecurity that those liberties were fought for and won, but the understandable urge of today's politicians and police to have someone in custody is already getting dangerously close to being one or two steps away from promoting the "disappearing people" objective of the far right. The definition of evidence has not changed - it is, or it isn't. Dame Eliza should be ashamed of herself.
Richard, Reykjavik, Iceland