One of the single biggest issues that have been a cause of concern for both governments and citizens in the latter part of the 2010s is the issue of terrorism. The increase in the threat that terrorist organisations such as ISIS and their recruitment methods pose to Western society has been extortionate.

According to the Metropolitan Police, between January and December, 2016 121,151 pieces of extremist material was removed from the web. This is a dramatic increase for the figure for both 2010 & 2011 inclusive, which stood at 1,527 pieces.

When a threat such as this arises, one of the most compelling questions is how a society that prides itself on the values of liberalism and democracy is to tackle such an issue.

Does the obvious duty of the government to protect its citizens from becoming victims of terrorist attacks ever justify adopting means that may infringe on individual rights, such as a right to privacy/individual freedom?

In order to look at this issue, it is only right that we employ the work of John Locke as the basis for the development of the argument. John Locke is considered to be the 'father' of classic liberalism, bringing the issue of individual freedom into the 'social contract' debate after Thomas Hobbes' 'Leviathan' (which many would consider being troublingly authoritarian).

Liberty and security exist in a paradox where terrorism is concerned

John Locke considered the primary role of the government to be the preservation/protection of 'life, liberty, and property.' However, when the issue of terrorism arises, liberty and security (in this instance the security of life) can often exist paradoxically.

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The core issue is that, under normal circumstances, the state would have a so-called 'monopoly on violence.' Where terrorism exists, this is no longer the case, and therefore Government's may have to introduce measures which are perceived to infringe on personal liberty.

In the case of ISIS, in the UK this has been in the form of a so-called 'snoopers charter' formally known as the 'Investigatory Powers Act 2016' which increased the scope for UK state surveillance.

The Act requires that all web and phone companies store everyone's browsing history for a period of 12 months and give the police and security services unprecedented access to this data.

The Act also provides police and security services with the power to hack into phone and computers in order to access communications and collect them in bulk. The law also requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists' call and web records.

Where do we draw the line?

Obviously, the issue, referring to Locke, is the conflict here that there seems to be between the protection of life and the protection of liberty.

The 'snooper's charter' is certainly troubling ethically. The intervention by government into communications between private individuals certainly does not respect the issue of personal liberty. However, if an intervention saves the lives of potentially hundreds of people, is it justified?

It appears that acts of terrorism thrive in liberal, democratic societies. Values associated with these types of societies, such as freedom of movement (particularly important in the event of the Paris attack), freedom of association and freedom of expression are perceived as being favourable for planning an attack.

If we abandon liberty, terrorism wins

However, with this being said, while it is clear that a society that values personal liberty also carries with it the greatest level of openness/risk of experiencing terrorist attacks, if we are to abandon the values of liberty that we all hold so dear, then the terrorists have won.

While they may not have 'won' in the sense that they have managed to kill a group of people on the streets of London, they have won in the sense that they have managed to strike a level of fear into us that causes us to abandon core British values.

It is, of course, essential that the Government tackles the issue of terrorism, the protection of life is still a core function of Government. These functions are, according to Locke, the only reason we hand over a portion of our liberty to the government. However, the strategy must be developed in accordance with the values of individual liberty.

The Home Office has recently contributed £600,000 to the development of technology that is able to detect videos containing extremist content before it even hits the web. The technology has a 94% accuracy rate, and on a random selection of a million videos, only 50 needed to be reviewed by a person.

Technology like this, in my view, tackles the problem at source. By preventing the content that radicalises young men from hitting the web in the first place, we can both fight terrorism and preserve individual liberty. This avenue should always be considered the most favourable.