Opinion / Editorials

Balancing security acts with rights of individuals

(China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-29 08:05

Balancing security acts with rights of individuals

Border police officers conduct an anti-terror drill in Bortala, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, this month. The top legislature passed the country's first anti-terrorism law on Sunday, together with several other laws. ZHANG JIA/XINHUA

Terrorism is not something peculiar to foreign soil.

The latest reminder came on Christmas Eve in Beijing, when some embassies warned of a possible attack on foreigners and the municipal authorities issued the first-ever holiday security alert.

That President Xi Jinping signed the country's first Anti-Terrorism Law immediately after it received legislative approval, and that it is scheduled to take effect four days afterward on Friday, is indicative of the need for such a law.

The country requires the law to cope with the increased threat from terrorist activities, and to regulate and coordinate its anti-terrorism actions.

The new law meets the needs of security by obligating all parties to cooperate with the authorities when asked to. Fines and custody have been prescribed for those who fail to do so.

With the establishment of a national anti-terrorism intelligence and leadership center, and law enforcement agencies, the armed forces, government institutions and individual citizens all assigned legal responsibilities, this law will almost certainly make the country's campaign against terrorism more efficient.

It must be pointed out, however, that the ultimate goal of the Anti-Terrorism Law is none other than protection of lives, and is meant to operate only within the framework of the Constitution. The constitutional assurance of human rights and civil liberties provide the ground for preventing any possible excess in law enforcement.

The current law does include clauses promising proper use of information involving commercial secrets and citizens' privacies. But considering the law's emphasis on precautionary and preemptive moves, chances are that institutions and individuals may see some of their otherwise constitutional rights and interests compromised in the name of security needs. Such compromise may involve freedom of movement and correspondence, even the right to know.

Security is an overriding concern in all societies, which is why people have no difficulty accepting some loss of freedom when security is at stake. The United States after the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is a ready example of the sacrifice of personal freedoms for greater security.

In many ways this is a necessary price.

But since the law allows extensive options for security agencies to pursue their ends, from surveillance and the freezing of assets to restriction of personal freedom, there should be legal and administrative guarantees that such restrictions do not go overboard in practice.

It is important to ensure that society and its members do not have to pay such a price when it is not absolutely necessary. When a price has to be paid, it should be commensurate with the actual need.

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