Snowden revelations not surprising, according to surveillance expert Christopher Slobogin

Professor Christopher SloboginThe major domestic impact of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive phone surveillance by a federal spy agency is the fact that the government now feels compelled to explain how it is regulating the National Security Agency (NSA) and whether efforts to monitor it have been successful, according to Christopher Slobogin.

Slobogin, who holds Vanderbilt’s Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law, is the author of Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which addresses the issues of privacy and government intrusion.

An expert in criminal procedure, mental health law and evidence law who directs Vanderbilt’s Criminal Justice Program, Slobogin notes that those who have been following the expansion of government surveillance programs since the attacks of 9/11 have not been surprised by the revelations from Snowden, a former intelligence contractor now under temporary asylum in Russia.

But the debate those revelations have brought on about the government’s response “is what we in the privacy community have been demanding for years,” Slobogin said.

In his book and related work, Slobogin recommends a double-barreled approach to the problem of security agency monitoring.

“First, there must be legislative authorization of surveillance programs, legislative insistence that the program be universal or at least evenhanded, and legislative oversight of the executive branch’s implementation of the program,” he said. “Second, before an individual or discreet group can be targeted, a judge or the equivalent must determine there is enough suspicion of terrorist or other significant criminal activity to justify the intrusion.”

Slobogin’s view is counter to that of some in the intelligence community who say current surveillance tools should available to the government at its discretion and counter to some in the privacy community who argue that a warrant is required before any significant surveillance.

Slobogin is available for expert commentary for ongoing stories regarding Snowden’s revelations and the expansion of government surveillance programs.

Contact: Jennifer Johnston, Vanderbilt University Public Affairs, (615) 322-NEWS

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