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Is there a trade-off between Freedom and Security?

The Q Wealth Report
16 July, 2008

Freedom is something most people regard as very close to their hearts. Living in “the West” or a “democracy.” The “American Dream.” The Freedom to do business, create wealth. Until, it seems, governments start talking about security and protection against the dark forces of evil – whether it be terrorism, drugs, or even benefit fraud. That at least was the conclusion of The Economist in a recent article entitled Mary Poppins and Magna Carta based on a survey carried out in June by YouGov PLC.

Despite Benjamin Franklin's sage advice that those who would give up liberty and security deserve neither, the British public seems more than happy to trade a little liberty for a the promise of more security.

Successive governments have conned us that by giving up just a little more freedom each time they ask, we increase our security. This has been going on for a long time now, and the effects really are becoming noticeable – especially to people like me who live offshore and just visit the UK on occasions.

As restrictive new laws are brought in, uses for them tend to multiply. In March it emerged that local councils in the UK had been using surveillance powers intended for deployment against terrorists and serious criminals to spy on people trying to game the school-admissions system.

As David Davis, the British Member of Parliament who recently resigned to make his point, says:

The government presents these issues as Faustian trade-offs between security and liberty. The reality is that draconian measures rarely make us safer and often jeopardise security. That is not a trade-off. It is a con…

Gordon Brown has indeed done just this. He claims that new authoritarian powers for the state are “guarantors of liberty.” Shall we believe him?

For a start, says David Davis, look at the British national ID card scheme and its overseas equivalents such as America’s REAL ID which effectively seeks to create a USA national ID card by standardising state ID cards. There is no convincing evidence that terrorists are using fake identities – the September 11th hijackers used their own US IDs to board the planes, and the national ID card schemes already in place in Germany and Spain did nothing to prevent terrorist plots there.

The ID cards common in European countries, however, are much less dangerous to our liberties than those proposed by Blair, Brown and their cronies, because they use a limited amount of data which remains broadly in control of the card holder. They are not “swiped” by terminals linked to a national database wherever you go, while the British ID card will be.

Promises that sensitive personal data will be carefully protected also look rather limp. Last November, CDs containing 25 million child-benefit records were reported lost. On June 12th a civil servant was suspended after top-secret papers about terrorism were found on a train; on the same day another set of documents—this time on financial fraud—turned up on a different train! Five days later it emerged that a laptop stolen from the office of a cabinet minister may have contained confidential documents, violating data-protection rules.

Yet, the British public, according to The Economist/YouGov survey, trust the government a lot more than private firms with their personal data. Odd, since more than half of British consumers have signed up voluntarily for supermarket loyalty schemes which track their purchasing habits.

Privacy is a basic human right, and you should think very carefully every time you are asked for personal information. Give out personal information on a strict “need to know” basis. If a few companies don’t want to do business with you that way, or try to bribe you with a free toaster, just live with it. You’ll be glad you did.

To finish, here’s another thought from Ben Franklin that seems very appropriate to our themes of freedom, wealth and privacy: "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."

Look forward to more blog entries about Freedom, Wealth and Privacy. I hope you enjoy them and that you can use the information here to benefit your business and your life. In turn I would much appreciate your feedback, comments and questions. I can be contacted via info@petermacfarlane.net

Peter Macfarlane is joint editor of The Q Wealth Report an established newsletter dedicated to informing readers about creating, protecting and growing wealth in a secure offshore environment. It also covers international living, banking, retiring and investing. Visit www.QWealthReport.com to see more.

If you would like to know more about the opposition to the UK National ID card scheme, visit www.no2id.net.


About the Author

The Q Wealth Report

Peter Macfarlane of The Q Wealth Report blogs on Freedom, Wealth and Privacy qwealthreport.com


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