Surveillance of American citizens is a major concern for some, according to Kevin Slack, associate professor of politics, but there are different views of where the problem lies and what must be done about it. College Republicans had Slack speak on the issue and take part in a discussion on policy on Nov. 8.
The College Republicans hosted a policy discussion entitled “Counter-terrorism.” Slack opened the event by speaking on government surveillance. Afterward, there was open discussion among the students that attended.
Slack argued that today there is “an unprecedented level of spying.” This is not just on foreign communication, but also on American citizens, Slack said. The surveillance put in place after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he said, have continued to expand since then.
“The government claims to draw a line between U.S. citizens and non-citizens,” Slack said, “but it collects the metadata and content of U.S. citizens nevertheless, both upstream, via fiber cables, and downstream, by requiring private companies to turn over information about their clients.”
The National Security Agency is collecting information from at least nine companies through the surveillance program PRISM, he said. The Department of Homeland Security also gives funding to state and local police for surveillance equipment.
“The NSA claims it does not collect content, nor does it spy on American citizens,” Slack said.
But this claim, he said, is not true, as directors of National Intelligence have lied to a congressional committee. This diminishes the credibility of government surveillance officials, he said. Surveillance of American citizens, he suggested, has not made us much safer, as “it has proven ineffective in preventing terrorist attacks.”
In order to resolve the problem of government spying, Slack says the laws must be modified, though this will prove to be difficult.
“The solution to this problem, which would require a change in executive orders and U.S. law, is pretty straightforward: require warrants for all domestic surveillance, re-encrypt the data, and stop collecting and storing most of it,” he said. “But to undo such an entrenched bureaucracy would require epic statesmanship, especially when our elected representatives are hardly lawmakers in any proper sense of the word.”
Slack cited Michael Glennon, professor of international law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in arguing that many elected officials are puppets for bureaucrats. Widespread surveillance of American citizens puts money in the bureaucrats’ pockets, he said, but does not help the people of the nation.
Ross Hatley, president of Hillsdale College Republicans, said the event was arranged to help Hillsdale students better understand where policy and principles meet.
“We have to build statesmen here on this campus to go out into the political arena,” Hatley said. “I hope that’s what we’re able to continue doing with this event format.”
He added some thoughts to Slack’s talk, especially on the difference between domestic and foreign surveillance.
“The more we can separate the foreign policy and the national security apparatus from the domestic side, we’ll have increased success,” he said.
Senior Razi Lane also attended the discussion and had his own views on the policies presented.
“The text of the law itself, particularly the Patriot Act and the FISA, delineate specific protections for United States citizens, and part of the problem now is that the NSA is not following those provisions as closely as it ought to,” Lane said. “In terms of a solution, that was what was up for discussion tonight; I don’t think we arrived at any kind of a ‘silver bullet,’ so to speak, to the NSA problem.”
However, Lane had his own views on a solution to this issue. He suggested Congress should order the Government Accountability Office to conduct audits on the NSA.
“You want a private, government organization conducting an audit of the institution,” he said. “I think we can start from there.”