“Security is a most seductive thing”: A New Wrinkle in Time
“Security is a most seductive thing,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the greatest evil there is.”
Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ has sold 14 million copies since its publication in 1962. Now, a never-before-seen passage cut from an early draft is shedding surprising light on the author’s political philosophy.
The passage from an earlier draft connects to this year’s Stoa topic on federal surveillance policy (which is similar to the coming school year’s National Speech and Debate Association topic:
Her father proceeds to lay out the political philosophy behind the book in much starker terms than are apparent in the final version.
He says that yes, totalitarianism can lead to this kind of evil. (The author calls out examples by name, including Hitler, Mussolini and Khrushchev.) But it can also happen in a democracy that places too much value on security, Mr. Murry says. “Security is a most seductive thing,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the greatest evil there is.”
September 11, 2001 was the time that wrinkled the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment’s on federal search and seizure were soon set aside in the panic over terrorism. Randy Barnett, in the Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2013, argues “The NSA’s Surveillance Is Unconstitutional: Congress or the courts should put a stop to these unreasonable data seizures.“
Data seizure that began with national security justifications soon expanded to financial information. Barnett argues that all of this violates the Fourth Amendment:
the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, is compiling a massive database of citizens’ personal information—including monthly credit-card, mortgage, car and other payments—ostensibly to protect consumers from abuses by financial institutions.
All of this dangerously violates the most fundamental principles of our republican form of government. The Fourth Amendment has two parts: First, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Second, that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Source.)
Assigning legal responsibility for federal surveillance overreach was also a key part of the original Bill of Rights:
As other legal scholars, most notably Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar, have pointed out, when the Fourth Amendment was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, government agents were liable for damages in civil tort actions for trespass. The Seventh Amendment preserved the right to have a jury composed of ordinary citizens pass upon the “reasonableness” of any searches or seizures. Because judges were not trusted to jealously guard the liberties of the people, the Fourth Amendment restricted the issuance of warrants to the heightened requirements of “probable cause” and specificity. (Source.)
Later, federal government employees were granted immunity from civil suits and jury trial were set aside so judges could decide what was reasonable.
On the other side, the May 11, 2015 National Review article “NSA Data Collection: Necessary, or Unconstitutional?” insists:
Opponents of the 215 program claim it is an unconstitutional violation of privacy rights and say that it has played no role in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks. Both of these claims are untrue. …
While its detractors refuse to admit it, the 215 program has been a successful tool in stopping terrorist attacks. It has been strongly defended by many intelligence officials and members of Congress
So there is a debate about how effective warrantless bulk collection and metadata analysis for stopping terrorist attacks. The Constitution, however, calls for specific warrants, in order for people to be secure from government:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Debaters try to distinguish between the message and the envelop in claiming NSA metadata collection doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. But the NSA seems to be seizing telephone and email records from private firms like Yahoo with only general warrants, rather than warrants with: probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Here is a video interview with Randy Barnett discussing NSA seizures (at FreedomFest August, 2013):