CONCORD — The National Security Agency’s monitoring of domestic communication is either a violation of Constitutional rights or is a valid tool to provide security and safety for the American populace.
The issue was the forefront of a Federalist Society debate at the University of New Hampshire Law School between Concord attorney Charles Douglas, a former state Supreme Court Justice and U.S. congressman, and Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The issue came to light after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released documents about the program to the media in mid-2013.
“Because of what happened last June, we can have this public debate we couldn’t have before,” Douglas said.
Douglas said the program is unconstitutional because it is a warrantless overreach and constitutes surveillance of American citizens by the government in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
“This is systemic. It is hand-in-glove with the phone companies,” he said.
Rosenzweig said the fine line is that domestic program does not involve actually listening to phone calls, but is rather a data collection stream.
“This is not about what you said to your mother on the phone,” he said. “To portray this as some rogue operation that just went wild is not accurate.”
Douglas said he does not buy the argument that the government “needs the haystack to find the needle. What they are also doing is harvesting every wheat field every day and putting those haystacks in one room. That is quantitatively and qualitatively too much.”
Rosenzweig said citizens who expect their government to protect them must accept that the government may have to conduct surveillance out of the public spotlight that may not sit well with some.
“This is not a program run amok,” he said.
But Douglas said that, in an information age featuring cell phones, drones and “cameras on every corner street light,” people cannot expect the same level of privacy as they did in the age of paper records. In making his point, he referenced the famous revelation that the NSA had been monitoring phone records of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for about 10 years.
“We are in a surveillance society,” he said. The National Security Agency is tracking 1.8 billion phone calls per day, “in addition to listening to Angela Merkel’s phone calls. Apparently, we are all suspects.”