Social scientists tell us we now live that we live in a ‘world risk society’. But what does this really mean and what, if anything, do environmental risks, health risks, and natural disasters have in common with those posed by terrorism? When we move from the natural world to human threats are we still dealing with hard science or are we in the realm of speculation? Are the presumptions behind risk based counter-terrorism policies and the profiling of terrorist suspects safe? Terrorist acts are exceptionally rare but they pose the risk of catastrophic harm. No surprise then that we consent to intrusive measures that erode civil liberties in the name of avoiding such harms. The conceit of ‘balancing’ liberty and security assumes that by degrading liberty we can reduce risk. In place of balancing might we do better to ask what really is at risk in the war on terror? We think of the risks posed by terrorism primarily in terms of subjective insecurity and threat to life and property. But countering terrorism carries its own risks – risks to social, political, and economic life and risks to rights (rights to freedom of speech, to privacy, and to freedom of the person). Add to this the risk of marginalising and alienating those we target and we are in danger of allowing responses to terrorism to generate a whole slew of new risks. So my question is what risks are at stake and how we might live with risk without living in terror.
Lucia Zedner is a Law Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Professor of Criminal Justice in the Faculty of Law and a member of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford. She wrote her doctorate and held a Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford before taking up a Law Lectureship at the London School of Economics when she helped found and became Assistant Director of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice. She returned to Oxford in 1994 becoming a Reader in 1999 and Professor in 2005. She held a British Academy Research Readership 2003-5 and has held visiting fellowships at universities in Germany, Israel, America, and Australia. Since 2007 she has also held the position of Conjoint Professor in the Law Faculty at the University of New South Wales, Sydney where she is a regular visitor. Lucia Zedner’s research interests span criminal justice, criminal law, and legal theory. From her first book on the history of imprisonment, she has gone on to write several books and many articles on criminal justice and penal policy, most recently focussing on aspects of risk, security and terrorism. Recent books include Criminal Justice (2004), Crime and Security (co-edited with Ben Goold, 2006) and Security (2009). With Oxford colleague, Professor Andrew Ashworth, she has been awarded a major AHRC grant to work on ‘Preventive Justice’ a project that will explore the politics and proliferating policies of risk and prevention; map changing patterns of criminalization and pre-emptive state action; consider their implications for civil liberties; and ask how far the state may go to prevent harm. Its ultimate aim is to develop principles and values to guide and limit states in their use of coercive preventive powers.