Kurt Opsahl is senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit San Francisco digital rights group. Opsahl spoke to the Trib regarding the organization's ongoing attempts to combat domestic surveillance.
Q: The federal government's electronic snooping is drawing a lot of attention at the moment, but hasn't your organization been fighting these types of activities for a long time?
A: Yes. We've been on one case, Jewel v. NSA, for the past five years. The EFF sued the NSA and other government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the unconstitutional surveillance of their records. It's been a lengthy case, a difficult case; the NSA has attempted to get the case dismissed under the state secrets privilege. It's on appeal now. All we want is to have the court rule that the surveillance is illegal.
Q: What arguments do you bring to these types of cases?
A: It's been a great part of the American tradition to be skeptical of government power, to be skeptical of government secrecy and to protect the privacy and security of our citizens. That's why we have the Fourth Amendment (prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure). We believe these (domestic surveillance) programs are unconstitutional, they exceed statutory authority and they amount to general warrants that aren't specific but allow the government to troll through people's lives.
Q: What about the government's contention that these surveillance programs are acceptable because they concentrate on phone records rather than the content of the calls themselves?
A: I think there's a lot of misinformation by some aspects of the government that metadata doesn't matter, that it's not invading your privacy. Who you call, how long you spoke, where you called from — over time that paints a picture of your life. You've placed a large number of calls to a particular person and suddenly you stop. People can infer that you broke up with your girlfriend. Even a single call can reveal a lot. If someone places a call on the Golden Gate Bridge to a suicide hotline, it wouldn't be very difficult to determine what was being discussed. The government keeps insisting that these programs aren't invasive. If they aren't invasive, then why do they want them? What good would they do them?
Q: Are you encouraged at all by the fact that two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee (Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo.) have voiced concerns over this type of data collection — even though they're not permitted to discuss what specific elements of the classified program trouble them?
A: I would say more encouraged by Rep. (Jim) Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a co-author of the Patriot Act, coming out and saying that Section 215 of the Patriot Act does not authorize this kind of blanket collection of records, that the (collected) records have to be relevant to an authorized investigation. That was very gratifying to hear.
Q: Do you believe this type of domestic surveillance poses a legitimate threat to our democracy?
A: The Fourth Amendment is part of the founding ideals of this country. Colonists threw off the yoke of England because of the use of general warrants. This is a very foundational aspect of American democracy. We shouldn't be sacrificing it.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or email@example.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Woman’s body found in Mars home
- Prime time not kind to Heinz Field
- Penguins veteran defenseman Scuderi’s game looking up
- Starkey: Hockey hypocrites, unite
- Steelers offense puts up gaudy numbers in season’s 1st half
- Police: 2 anti-violence organizers beat ex-roomie in Washington
- State police trooper seriously hurt when hit by vehicle in East Huntingdon
- Clairton police rounding up street-level drug dealers
- Movie studio owner building in McKees Rocks is $540K in red
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger, offense must adjust with CB Smith out
- Profit falls at vitamin retailer GNC Holdings in third quarter