Review of Moss, K (2011) Balancing Liberty and Security: Human Rights, Human Wrongs

A Review of Balancing Liberty and Security: Human Rights, Human Wrongs K. Moss. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (2011) 251pp. £52.00hb ISBN 978-0-230-23029-3

The Howard Journal Vol 53 No 3. July 2014 ISSN 0265-5527, pp. 314–322 315 © 2014 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

In this book, Kate Moss draws attention (as few others have done) to the pandemic proportions of the onslaught of the government of the United Kingdom on the civil liberties and the rule of law. The author deploys insights from law and criminology to contend that while government’s concern about public safety is a legitimate one, there is serious cause for worry about holding the balance between human rights and security.

Through the interrogation of various examples, Moss argues that there is a very strong case to be made that the current approach is in violation of the entire ethos of a modern, liberal, democratic polity. A number of important revelations, some noted in the book, others, subsequent to its publication, vindicate the author’s concerns about the increasingly-enlarged powers of the State and how they seriously encroach on civil liberties. A major example is the recent revelation that the United States has not only been listening in to the private conversations of millions of ordinary citizens in the UK, for instance, but also those of various European Union leaders. This level of surveillance is typical of so-called ‘US exceptionalism,’ advanced in justification of its heightened and gross disregard for human rights in a unipolar superpower post-9/11 world. However, no thanks to Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government (and his successors) there is a proliferation of surveillance mechanisms, dataveillance (in the author’s words) rolled out to keep us safe. Thus, the exceptionalism characteristic of the United States has become the norm in the UK, too.

Moss warns against being taken in by positive sides of advancements in technology to the neglect of the institutionalisation of ‘a surveillance society’ (p.23) with its grave implications for civil rights. The advancement in technology has been deployed in a way that depletes accountability for immense intrusion of State security agencies into our everyday lives. Worse, still, we have seen the extension of similar powers to private bodies, all on the justification of risks to which the government seeks to cater in order to secure public safety. This is despite the fact that, as with the example of the UK government’s intervention in Iraq, such risks are not only highly unlikely to materialise, but, indeed, typically fictitious.

Despite the clear legal and political inadequacies of the persisting dataveillance culture, there has been little attention by academics to debating or challenging myriad schemes set up for the extensive encroachments to our rights. As the author points out, this amounts to an abdication of responsibility. Balancing Liberty and Security finds an important place in (the still few) works that have expressed concern about the silence of academics on the abuse of State power. This forthright evaluation of the risk society raises an articulate voice over externally or self-imposed silence of the academy on insidious deployment of State power ostensibly for public good. It is an accessible and welcome critical contribution to the discourse on civil rights and the monstrosity that is increasingly becoming the main face of State power even in the West with its claims on liberal democracy, rule of law and human rights. It is a must read for students and researchers of human rights, security studies and criminology and politics.

The Howard Journal Vol 53 No 3. July 2014 ISSN 0265-5527, pp. 314–322 315 © 2014 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd


Centre for Law, Crime and Justice,

School of Law,

University of Strathclyde,


About admin

Kate Moss is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wolverhampton. She has led on the recent EU funded Daphne III programme 'Women Rough Sleepers Research' and she and her colleagues will be continuing the them of this research in two further Daphne funded research projects on 'Empowering Women Rough Sleepers' and 'Runaway and Homeless Children.'
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