Students hold panel discussion on surveillance

James Neidhardt

News Editor


On Tuesday, March 28, Fairleigh Dickinson University students participated in a Hot Topics panel discussion entitled “Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear: Debating Privacy and National Security in the Age of Snapchat.”

The event took place on the Flor- ham Campus in Lenfell Hall, and Anthony Trusso, Jonathan Dav- erso, Ian Comings and Erica Gale were the student panelists. Becton College Dean Geoffrey Weinman opened the event, and Richard Nisa, an assistant professor of geography, was the moderator.

Nisa began the discussion by em- phasizing that “one of the things about these two issues is that it’s really hard to take a firm stance on either side of the terms.” He said he hoped the discussion was less of a debate and dealt instead with the nuances of the issue.

His first question was whether or not the U.S. government should “substantially curtail its domestic surveillance.” The panel quickly divided, with Gale and Comings saying they believe the government should curtail surveillance, and Daverso and Trusso asserting it should not. Trusso said he believes surveillance should be increased.

Nisa followed up by asking Dav- erso in particular what it meant to have “responsible” surveillance. Daverso replied that the checks and balances of the United States Constitution give Congress the limited authority to surveil in cer- tain circumstances.

Comings argued “that mass sur- veillance of any type is against the spirit” of constitutional protections.

From that point, the discussion continued, with each side de- fending their positions and Nisa continuing to ask questions that made the topic more complicat-

ed. Issues such as the difference between mass surveillance and targeted surveillance arose, along with questions of metadata and encryption.

When questioned by Comings, Trusso asserted that terrorism was not the only reason he be- lieved surveillance was necessary. He cited the illegal drug trade and keeping track of people entering the U.S. as legitimate reasons for surveillance.

Nisa asked if any audience members had questions for the panelists.

One person asked Comings if his position that terrorism was not cause enough for mass surveil- lance made him “okay” with the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The same audience member also asked Gale if she was justifying domestic attacks that may have been preventable with more surveillance.

Comings responded by compar- ing the number of terror victims with the number of drowning, car accident or gun violence victims. He said that the comparatively low number of terror victims negated the risks brought about through increased surveillance, though he affirmed that he was of course in no way “okay” with terror attacks.

Gale also responded by assert- ing that her position did not in any way imply support for school shootings or other forms of do- mestic violence. Rather, she said that surveillance was not effective in preventing violence. “There’s nothing to indicate that surveillance in any of those school shoot- ings would have … prevented them,” she said.

When asked by Nisa about the surveillance of racial and religious minorities, Comings said that surveilling anyone differently because of their race was “un-American.”

Daverso replied by saying that U.S. President Franklin D. Roo- sevelt put Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II in the name of security. When asked by Gale whether he was justifying Roo- sevelt’s actions, Daverso responded, “I’m not agreeing with the things the Democratic president did.”

Nisa began to finish the discus- sion by pointing out that many of the nuances to questions of sur- veillance had not been touched

upon due to the sharp division among the panelists, and pointed out that both sides had contradictory elements to their arguments, implying the issue was too complicated to take a firm stance on.

His final question to the panelists was how they responded to the statement, “If I am not doing anything wrong, I have nothing to hide.”

Gale said that the issue was big- ger than any individual, comparing the right to privacy to the right to free speech. Comings built off of Gale, speaking of matters of personal privacy and how everyone

would likely be uncomfortable with all of their private information exposed to the world, even if none of it were illegal.

Daverso said the statement was fallacious, as it implied that the government then had a right to information just because it is not illegal. Daverso further said that everyone should have a right to privacy.

Trusso likewise affirmed people’s rights to privacy, but re- stated his position that the government should be able to do, within limits, what is necessary to protect people.

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