Policing of Terrorism

The policing of terrorism must evolve, as it is a growing threat; increasing use of surveillance is a politically sensitive issue.

The danger to life and limb has caused the emphasis to be placed upon prevention, so considerable resources have been made available, but sometimes the threat exceeds the capacity of the Legal Dimension so that a State has to use its armed forces to prevent a collapse of law and order (7.2.6). 

New intelligence techniques, including electronic surveillance, have been deployed to give early warning of terrorist activity.  These can be seen as a threat to the civil liberties of the population, though, and “Americans are divided about the merits of surveillance” according to an Economist article: Secrets, lies and America’s spies.  Although most people feel that safety is more important than privacy, there should be some limits on data gathering.

The policing of terrorism needs to evolve as terrorists become more sophisticated.  Global terrorism networks, as described later (7.3.3), use the Internet to radicalise disaffected people and train them in the latest techniques.  The police must also be trained to keep up with the evolving threat and they need to share intelligence across national boundaries, as described later in this chapter (5.3.4). 

Although terrorists, by definition, use unpleasant techniques, this does not mean that the police have a right to be equally unpleasant.  The role of police is to protect society, not to be a threat, so it is appropriate that the police are subject to the rule of law and that they respect people’s rights. 

Police breaches of the law, including torture, are treated in this book as violent abuses of institutional power that leave people with no alternative but to protect themselves by any means available to them.  If the population feels that it must protect itself against its own government, the outcome is unpredictable (7.2.4). 



(This is an archive of a page intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  The latest versions are at book contents).