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Brits Do It Better

Publication Date: 
June 12, 2008
The New York Review Of Books
David Cole

Center for Constitutional Law Fellow Laura Donohue 's book is reviewed in The New York Review of Books. This is how David Cole quotes her:

Donohue argues that both countries have adopted counterproductive policies on the financing of terror, detention of suspects, intelligence-gathering, and restrictions on speech. Still, reading these books largely confirmed what I found in my time in London: namely, that the UK has been considerably more restrained and sensitive to rights in its response to terrorism since September 11 than the United States.


Donohue convincingly criticizes control orders and pre-charge detention as infringements on basic liberties. But these measures pale in comparison to US detention policies.


Donohue shows, UK policies on speech, pre-charge detention, control orders, and terror financing continue to raise serious human rights concerns. The UK was the most prominent country to back the US in the invasion of Iraq, the gravest error yet in the so-called "war on terror." And there is one particularly glaring exception to the general pattern­in carrying on surveillance of suspects the UK seems to have far weaker protections of privacy than the US, as discussed in more detail below. Still, when viewed as a whole, the United Kingdom's response to terrorism seems to have been more measured, nuanced, and carefully tailored than that of the United States.


Donohue agrees "with Tom Parker­and virtually every Briton I interviewed­ namely, that the primary lesson of the IRA experience is that overly repressive responses are counterproductive."


Donohue describes both countries as "courting the shadow of Big Brother." A 2007 report by the UK nonprofit Privacy International and the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center characterized both countries as "endemic surveillance societies," ranking them with Russia, China, and Malaysia.[8] And so much surveillance is secret that comparisons are necessarily tentative. But at least on the surface, the US has considerably more substantial protections for privacy.