First, in your own words, write a brief paragraph in which you explain the difference between Civil Right and Civil Liberties. Second, discuss your informed view of the challenge the United States faces in balancing Civil Liberties with the requirements for national and homeland security. The balance between liberty and security has been a difficult one to achieve throughout our history. However, new technologies in the hands of both our government and adversaries have brought this question forward in a significant way.  While recognizing it is impossible to know precisely what will or might happen, what do you think is the proper balance, in your view? How much should civil liberties be affected by security concerns? Provide a specific example to illustrate your points. 

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In short, the difference between civil rights and civil liberties is that civil rights refer to the movement for equality among the races, genders, and ages, and civil liberties refer to the rights afforded to all by the government that are guaranteed by the constitution. The civil rights movement was in response to the growing disparity between citizens and the struggle of women and minorities to improve their limited access to the same civil liberties white male citizens enjoy.

The United States faces a great challenge in balancing civil liberties with national and homeland security with the development of technology. Citizens want privacy, but they also want security. Access to information is at an all-time high. People are connected through the internet without ever meeting in person, and each meeting is recorded in some way or another, through email, phone records, skype, instant message, or a plethora of other methods. Access to all of this information may allow the government to investigate terrorism, but it would also be incredibly invasive to a person’s privacy. The average citizen is opposed to the government looking over their shoulder and recording data related to their movements and communications. But when it comes to security against international or domestic threats, the same citizens demand to know how the government did not see the threat coming.

Ultimately, it is impossible to know what the proper balance is. Each person places a different amount of value on their privacy and their security. Personally, I do not agree with the government having access to metadata or any type of recording of communication or physical movements without a warrant. For example, I am not comfortable with the government having access to the GPS data from a person’s cell phone, which would show most if not all physical movements.

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In brief, the difference between civil liberties and civil rights is that civil liberties are freedoms from government interference in our lives whereas civil rights have to do with ensuring that the laws treat all groups of people the same.  Civil liberties prevent, for example, the government from infringing on our freedom of speech while civil rights prevent the government from treating different groups (for example, men and women or people of different races) differently.

As to your second question, this is a matter of personal opinion.  Different people would answer this question very differently.  On the one hand, we could argue that security outweighs civil liberties significantly.  We could say that no one’s civil liberties are more valuable than the life of another.  Therefore, if the government has to listen to my phone calls and read my email to make sure that I don’t kill anyone, that is fine.  If I have nothing to hide, I have not been harmed by the surveillance.  By allowing it to happen, I help to prevent others from being killed.

On the other extreme, we have people who quote (or misquote) Benjamin Franklin, saying that “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither.”  In this view, when we give up our liberties, we have let the terrorists win.  We have destroyed our way of life, which is just what they  want us to do.  In this view, if the government infringes on all of our civil liberties, it is a “cure” that is worse than the “sickness” of occasional terrorist attacks.

Then, of course, we have various intermediate opinions.  To most people, the balance lies somewhere between these two extremes.  For example, you might think that it is okay for the NSA to collect data on who calls whom as long as they do not also record the phone calls.  You might think that it is okay for them to record the phone calls if they are between people who are suspected of sympathizing with terrorists.  You might think that it is okay to have extra surveillance on all Muslims in the United States because they might become radicalized, but that it is not okay to violate the privacy of anyone else. 

There is no way to specify exactly what the proper balance is.  Most people would probably say that we should not give up much of our civil liberties unless we would gain a significant amount of security.  However, it is very difficult to set out what “much of our civil liberties” or “a significant amount of security” means.  How much of your own privacy would you be willing to give up in order to have a better chance of preventing terrorist attacks?

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