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The War on Terror (cont.)

The Obama administration extends Bush-era surveillance policies.

Aug 23, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 46 • By GARY SCHMITT
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The fact is, whether one is looking at police surveillance powers, laws defining terrorist activities, prohibitions on speech, cooperation between police and intelligence, or—as in this instance—access to Internet use, the norm in Europe is no less forward-leaning in the fight against terrorism than here in this country—and is often more so. Although there are differences in specific counterterrorism practices due to the differences in history, constitutions, and threat levels, democratic governments across the board are nevertheless working aggressively to head off the kind of devastating attacks that occurred in the United States in 2001, in Spain in 2004, and in London in 2005.

To accomplish this, there has been an adjustment in the balance struck between the government providing security and the day-to-day exercise of civil liberties. It is wrong, however, to suggest that this adjustment has resulted in some dramatic alteration to the freedoms we associate with decent democratic rule. Compared with earlier points in history when a serious threat to national security arose, the policies adopted both here and in Europe have been far less onerous.

In short, Barack Obama has nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to keeping in place much of his predecessor’s counterterrorism policies. Rather than burying that fact, the Obama White House should accept it and point to its successes, while also noting those same policies are well within the “democratic mainstream” of our closest allies.

Gary Schmitt is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the recently published Safety, Liberty and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism (AEI Press).

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