Snowden revelations compel government to address surveillance enforcement

Christopher Slobogin (Vanderbilt)

Christopher Slobogin, the author of a book that addresses privacy and government intrusion, is available for expert commentary for ongoing stories regarding whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive phone surveillance by a federal spy agency.

That these revelations have had major repercussions is evidenced by Russia’s grant of asylum to Snowden on political grounds and President Obama’s recent decision to cancel a meeting with Russia’s President Putin as a result. The major domestic impact of whistleblower Snowden’s disclosures, however, 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 Slobogin.

Those who have been following the expansion of government surveillance programs since 9/11 have not been surprised by the revelations from Snowden, a former 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,” says Slobogin, Milton R. Underwood Chair of Law in Vanderbilt University.

Slobogin, an expert in criminal procedure, mental health law and evidence law, is the author of Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

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,” according to Slobogin.

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.