When people talk, as they often do, about a trade-off between security and liberty—when they say (as many people said after September 11, 2001) that we need to adjust the balance between security and civil liberties—what do they mean by security? Talk of a liberty-security balance has become so common that many view it as just an ambient feature of our political environment: "[I]t has become a part of the drinking water in this country that there has been a tradeoff of liberty for security, . . . that we have had to encroach upon civil liberty and trade some of that liberty we cherish for some of that security that we cherish even more." When we spend time discussing the definition of "liberty" and the concept of civil liberties, we try to be clear, because we know it makes a difference to the trade-off what liberties in particular we have in mind. However, we almost never address the question of what "security" means. In fact, when people talk in literature or in court about "the definition of security" what they usually produce is some view about what security requires at a particular time (in the way of legal or political measures). They say nothing about the meaning of the concept itself. Although we know that "security" is a vague and ambiguous concept, and though we should suspect that its vagueness is a source of danger when talk of trade-offs is in the air, still there has been little or no attempt in the literature of legal and political theory to bring any sort of clarity to the concept.
Jeremy J. Waldron,
Safety and Security,
85 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol85/iss2/5