NSA’s Data Surveillance Programs

June 30, 2013 – In The News
Art Fennell Reports

Scott Vernick appeared on The Comcast Network's Art Fennell Reports on June 30, 2013, to discuss the national security issues facing the United States following the leaks of confidential government surveillance programs.

With controversy heating up in recent weeks, Art Fennell Reports turned to veteran privacy attorney Scott Vernick to weigh in on the National Surveillance Agency's (NSA) phone and internet surveillance programs.

In light of the Edward Snowden leak that a secret order was delivered to Verizon for call records, Vernick clarified, "No one is listening to our phone calls, you still need a warrant in this country to listen to phone calls. What they (NSA) are doing is looking at phone logs to determine if there are patterns of calling information to determine whether or not there is foreign or domestic terrorism at work, which is a critical function of what the NSA does."

"The president and NSA have to balance privacy with security," said Vernick. "This country faces incredibly serious threats of foreign and domestic terrorism. They have tried to balance privacy and security in fighting terrorism, and I for one think the president has done a good job."

Vernick explained that the information obtained by the government via surveillance activities is used to deploy men and women in uniform and CIA Operatives. When questioned whether lives could be at stake due to such highly classified information being leaked, Vernick said, “If that information falls into enemy hands or the hands of terrorists, it can jeopardize operations and lives.”

"Just because you have a different view than the government of your host country doesn’t give you the right to break the law," Vernick said. "You should address it through the proper channels in the system."

Asked for his views on a recently passed Texas law that bans law enforcement officials from retrieving emails without a warrant, Vernick said, "They (Texas) are one of the few, maybe even the only state with that law. It used to be you could get email with just a subpoena, which is different than a warrant, if it was over 180 days old and unopened. That is still the federal law; the federal government can still do that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act."

"In Texas, law enforcement officials have to get warrants to get your email but in the workplace it’s different because it's not what the government is doing, but what the employer is doing. It’s pretty much the law of the land, that when you are using your employer’s computers you don’t really have any right to privacy."

On the issue of balancing national security and privacy, Vernick concluded, "I understand the drama and the hysteria but I really think if you take a close look at what the government has and has not done, I actually stand behind Obama and think he has struck the right balance."