06 March 2015

ARTICLE ANNOUNCEMENT: Eavesdropping on Our Founding Fathers: How a Return to the Republic's Core Democratic Values Can Help Us Resolve the Surveillance Crisis

By Jeffrey S. Brand 
University of San Francisco - School of Law

The 21st Century has brought with it a surveillance crisis unprecedented in our history – a crisis that threatens our core values, among them the right to free expression, a free press, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and privacy. The crisis also threatens the right of citizens to engage in democratic policy making. 

It is a crisis that should surprise no one after the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a never-ending so-called War on Terror, and a concurrent, unimaginable technology revolution digitizing our information and communication systems. Indeed, cataclysmic national security concerns coupled with the ability to monitor literally every communication of every American have spawned a generation of offspring with names like Stellar Wind, Prism, Upstream, Manning, Assange, Wikileaks and Snowden. 

The article, "Eavesdropping on Our Founding Fathers. How a Return to the Republic’s Core Democratic Values Can Help Us Resolve the Surveillance Crisis", provides a look at the current crisis through the lens of the history that led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the legislation that lies at the heart of the current controversy and around which all administrations, Democratic and Republican, and America’s surveillance bureaucracy, the NSA, the CIA, the NDI and the FBI, have danced for nearly four decades. The article argues that a proper balance between legitimate national security interests and the sacred values and civil liberties that buttress America’s democratic institutions and aspirations can be best achieved if the current surveillance landscape is examined through that lens. 

In sum, "Eavesdropping on Our Founding Fathers" argues that solutions to the current surveillance crisis lie in a return to core values and first principles that implement the intent of the Founding Fathers to create an adversarial system of checks and balances among the various branches of the government which included bolstering the independence of the judiciary – values and principles which were eloquently argued during the FISA debates. The article examines those debates and details compromises that were made in the final legislation that became FISA – compromises that ultimately undermined FISA and allowed it to become a tool of rather than a check on the Executive Branch whose power the Act was intended to curb. 

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