Dean and Professor, Boston College Law School
The aspirations that fueled the American revolution were numerous, but Thomas Paine captured one of them in his memorable phrase, “That government is best which governs least.” This is an ideal that we still hold fast. Our national anthem celebrates America as “the land of the free.” Our pledge of allegiance speaks of a nation that offers “liberty and justice for all.” Our constitution protects the people from government intrusion in a variety of ways, and one of the most important is the fourth amendment of the bill of rights. It promises that
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.
In this wonderful little book Robert Bloom explains the origins and meaning of this guarantee. It could not come at a better time. For a variety of reasons, our culture has focused unprecedented attention on the constitutional guarantees about searches and seizures.
The most recent of these was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that took place on September 11, 2001. That tragedy reminded us that there is an inevitable tension between liberty and security. The fourth amendment strikes a balance between individual privacy in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” and the effective operation of our domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies. We cannot have the full measure of security in both directions—against depredations by the government and by criminal and terrorist actors. And we are currently engaged in a national debate about how best to achieve the fullest measure of freedom.