In June 2013, government contractor Edward Snowden gave an interview to reporters from The Guardian revealing the National Security Agency (NSA) had been secretly monitoring phone records of the American people. Phone companies, according to Snowden, have been turning over massive quantities of information detailing phone numbers used, emails, instant messages, and contact info, also referred to as metadata, to the NSA, which is storing them in a government database.
Using this metadata, the NSA could create maps and social networks of people to reveal electronic traffic information that could potentially uncover the identities of people who threaten national security. Recent investigations uncovered evidence of secret tapping and monitoring of electronic devices belonging to heads of allied nations, such as Germany and France. The fallout from the Snowden confession called into question the credibility and legality of government agencies, like the NSA.
The central question in this deliberation is whether or not the NSA’s activities are legal and should the NSA, a federal agency, continue such activities? Students will be asked to consider: Should the federal government monitor phone and internet activity to protect the security of the United States?
Objectives and Outcomes
- Students will understand and be able to use vocabulary regarding the National Security Agency and surveillance. These terms include: NSA, FISA, FISC, metadata, surveillance, and declassify, among others.
- Students will be able to explain how the federal government conducts domestic surveillance under FISA and the role of the FISC.
- Students will be able to summarize and evaluate competing positions on the legality of the federal government’s surveillance programs. Students will experience one critical component of civic engagement by participating in an informed debate on the monitoring of phone calls and internet communication by the federal government.