When Privacy Is Security

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm


Earlier this week, I wrote an entry entitled “Edward Snowden and the Common Defense of Privacy” which raises the endless question of how much privacy is necessary to keep individuals private, and how much security is demanded to keep the Nation secure.  How can federal, state, and local governments ensure concurrent justice in both privacy and security?  Shall these two forces be a pendulum, forever swinging, or can they one day live in harmonious equilibrium?

Even before the recent allegations involving the National Security Agency (NSA) and Snowden, this debate raged, as it ever has.  Former Senate Juduciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has invoked the words of the farsighted and sage U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren who opined, “[T]he fantastic advances in the field of electronic communications constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.”  While Warren wrote that in 1963, before the Apollo moon landing had even occurred.  Given the concerns he expressed then, it is a very good thing for his sake alone, that he’s not around to see the world in which we live today.

One recent opinion piece written by Daniel J. Solove at The Washington Post presents five common reasons for why security should trump privacy and then refutes these, one by one.  A recurring theme is the need for oversight — checks and balances which very well may be the saving grace of American government since its founding.  James Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist Paper #51, stated how “The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”  Indeed, this advocates for a gentle balance between opposing forces.  Individual privacy is, inherently, the nemesis of public security; without some governmental intrusions into individual privacy, then preparations, preventions, arrests, and prosecutions could not occur.

Writing in the eloquent voice which had breathed so much life into the United States Constitution (As its principal drafter, Madison was, after all, the “Father of the Constitution”), Madison continued,”The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”  Perhaps it is from this that we are reminded that the government is comprised of “We the People…”

The most important statement is also most relevant to today’s debate of privacy and security, as “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Therein lies one answer to this question.  It is in this very spirit that Solove’s Post article advocates for greater oversight, for checks and balances, and rather than choosing privacy as outweighing security, it asserts that greater privacy shall fortify security.

Federalist #51 continues: “We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights [emphasis added].”  Thus, it is by privacy that there is security, for the institution of Government is ultimately comprised of individuals — together, they are the People.  While his fate remains unclear, perhaps Snowden is one such sentinel.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who reminded us above all about the importance of character.  Writing in 1857 — the same year the dreaded Dred Scott v. Sandford decision was handed down by the United States Supreme Court, he recognized the importance of privacy: “Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth…Speak as you think, be what you are, pay your debts of all kinds…A little integrity is better than any career.”

While his career is over, some may still say that Edward Snowden has a little integrity.

  1. This is a great post. I recently wrote about the NSA controversy and it would be great if I could get feedback from you. Let me know what you think. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I will comment on your blog sometime tomorrow.

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