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Constitution Day Event Examines NSA Surveillance Program

September 23, 2013

On Sept. 17, the USF School of Law hosted nearly 80 USF students and community members for a discussion about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program. The lunchtime panel, “Big Brother in the 21st Century?”, was held in honor of Constitution Day, which recognizes the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and those who have become U.S. citizens.

From left to right: USF Professors David Greene, Susan Freiwald, and Robert Elias.

USF School of Law Professor Susan Freiwald presented and moderated the discussion with Professor Robert Elias of the USF College of Arts and Sciences, and David Greene, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and adjunct professor at the School of Law.

Greene examined the first amendment issues on the topic, and explained two lawsuits that the EFF is involved in. One aims to stop the warrantless wiretapping and hold the government accountable, and the second argues that the ordering of Verizon to turn over metadata reports violates the first amendment’s right to association. 

“If you want to participate in an organization, to advocate with that organization, to lend your support in any way to an organization, sometimes you need to be able to do that in secret,” Greene said. “And if you can’t do that in secret, whether that’s secret from the whole world or even just secret from your neighbors, that’s going to inhibit your participation in that organization and inhibit both your individual ability to speak as well as that organization’s ability to speak on behalf of its members.”

Freiwald considered the fourth amendment issues raised by the request for metadata reports. “I think the government is on particularly weak grounds when they say that we don’t have a privacy interest in this location data, and there is still a question about how much of this location data, where our cell phones were, is in the records,” she said. “If it goes to court, I think there’s a strong argument that all this metadata is very informative about where we spend our time, who we talk to, what we’re doing.” 

Elias approached the controversial topic from a political viewpoint. “The NSA eavesdropping threatens the separation of powers under the constitution,” he said. “Besides jeopardizing our rights, the program is a symptom of a growing imbalance of power in the hands of the executive branch at the expense of the judiciary and the legislature. It’s an imbalance that questions our democracy.”

Support for the event was provided by the law school, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good.