Civil liberties

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Civil liberties is the name given to freedoms that protect the individual from government. Civil liberties set limits for government so that it would not abuse its power and interfere with the lives of its citizens. See also civil rights and human rights.

Basic civil liberties include freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. There are also the rights to due process, to a fair trial and to privacy. Many of the world's democracies, such as the United States and Canada, have bills of rights or similar constitutional documents that enumerate and seek to guarantee civil liberties. Other states have enacted similar laws through a variety of legal means, including signing and ratifying or otherwise giving effect to key conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It might be said that the protection of civil liberties is a key responsibility of all democratic states, unlike the situation in authoritarian states, for example.

The existence of some claimed civil liberties is a matter of dispute, as are the extent of most civil liberties. Controversial examples include reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, and possession of guns. Another matter of debate is the suspension or alteration of certain civil liberties in times of war or state of emergency, including whether and to what extent this should occur.

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[edit] Civil liberties by country

The European Convention on Human Rights, to which most European countries, including all of the European Union, belong, enumerates a number of civil liberties and is of varying constitutional force in different European states. France's 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen listed many civil liberties and is of constitutional force.

The Constitution of Canada includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees many of the same rights as the U.S. constitution, with the notable exceptions of protection against establishment of religion. However, the Charter does protect freedom of religion. The Charter also omits any mention of, or protection for, property.

The Constitution of People's Republic of China (apply to mainland China only, not to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) , especially its Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens, claims to protect many civil liberties. However, these are often not enforced. See Civil liberties in the People's Republic of China

While the United Kingdom has no codified constitution, relying on a number of legal conventions and pieces of legislation, it is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights which covers both human rights and civil liberties. The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the great majority of Convention rights directly into UK law.

The United States Constitution, especially its Bill of Rights, protects many civil liberties. See Civil liberties in the United States

[edit] Controversies in the UK

After the September 11, 2001 attacks the UK passed the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, Part 4 of which provided for the indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals whom the Home Secretary suspected of involvement in terrorism. In order to pass this legislation, the UK derogated from Article 5 of the Convention on the grounds that the terrorist threat to the UK constituted a 'public emergency threatening the life of the nation' within the terms of Article 15. In December 2004, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled by a majority of 8-1 that Part 4 of the 2001 Act was incompatible with Articles 5 and 14 of the Convention. Although a majority of the Law Lords agreed that the terrorist threat to the UK constituted a public emergency within the meaning of Article 15, it found that the use of indefinite detention was both disproportionate (in that less restrictive measures were available) and discriminatory (since UK nationals suspected of terrorism were not liable to indefinite detention). This prompted the government to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which provides for the use of "control orders" against both UK and foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism. The courts have yet to rule on the compatibility of these orders, although human rights groups have argued they are incompatible with both Article 5 (the right to liberty) and Article 6 (the right to a fair trial). It is argued by such groups that these acts are taking away civil liberties, in the name of "fighting terrorism" .

Despite the UK's liberal heritage, the Government's Information Commissioner stated in 2004 that the country is currently in danger of becoming a surveillance society. See also British national identity card.

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Civil liberties

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