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Professor Geoffrey Stone Provides the Association With a Glimpse Into the NSA

October 07, 2014 6:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Professor Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School was the feature speaker at our September 22 meeting. He provided us with a fascinating look at his work as a member of a five-member Review Group appointed by President Obamato advise him on the activities of the National Security Agency. Professor Stone is the former Dean of the University of Chicago Law School, a former provost of the entire University, and the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law.

Among other matters examined by the Review Group was the controversial surveillance program of the NSA authorized by section 215 of the Patriot Act of 2001. Under this program, the NSA on a daily basis collects metadata -- consisting of phone numbers and connections but no identities of callers or conversations -- on millions of American's phone calls from telephone providers. Professor Stone explained that the NSA holds and processes the metadata on its own computers. When NSA analysts determine that a particular phone number is associated with terrorism, the agency "queries" the database to find out related phone numbers from the database.

In 2012, according to Professor Stone, the NSA queried the database for 288 different numbers. In 16 instances the suspect number was found to be in touch with another suspect number in the United States. Those 16 instances were turned over to the FBI for further investigation. In the seven years since the program was created, however, it has not provided any link that has proved critical in preventing a pending terrorist attack.

Despite the lack of measurable success to date, Professor Stone said that the Review Group was of the view that the program should continue. But at the same time it recognized the danger of government abuse. Ultimately, the Review Group recommended to the President that the metadata should be held, not by the government, but by private parties -- either the telephone providers or a newly created private entity charged with overseeing the database. In addition, the Review Group recommended that no one should be able to access the database without a court order.

Following the making of these recommendations, President Obama accepted them and directed that steps be taken to transition to the new model. Professor Stone, who is a card-carrying member of the ACLU, regarded this as a huge step forward.

The presentation provided a rare glimpse into some of the workings of the NSA. The ALA and those attending the presentation are very grateful to Professor Stone both for his service on the Review Committee and for taking time to share his experience with our group.

Recommended Citation: Don Sampen, Professor Geoffrey Stone Provides the Association With a Glimpse Into the NSA, The Brief, (October 7, 2014),  

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