CTIC’s Vagle on intelligence, surveillance laws in wake of Paris attacks

"In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris and recent comments on intelligence gathering made by CIA Director John Brennan, Penn Law talked to Jeffrey Vagle, Executive Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation & Competition and an expert on surveillance law, cryptography and cybersecurity law, and electronic privacy.

Vagle spoke about the USA Freedom Act, encryption backdoors, and how we should be discussing the balance between security and civil liberties. 

Penn Law: What is your reaction to CIA Director Brennan’s most recent comments about the intelligence community having more leeway to do what they need to do?

Jeffrey Vagle: First off, many of us in the cybersecurity community felt that Brennan’s statement was fairly crass, and in bad taste — irrespective of any legal or technical merit it might have. Given the timing, Brennan’s statement appeared more opportunistic and exploitative than anything else.

That said, he made mention of the fact that essentially the intelligence service’s hands are tied because of what he called “hand-wringing” on the part of U.S. politicians and the public — post-[Edward] Snowden revelations. What he fails to recognize, however, is that what he is referring to as “hand-wringing” was actually a popular reaction to the revelations of illegal spying on the part of intelligence agencies. To discover something as illegal and engage in reforms, as modest as they were, probably would not be characterized by most people as “hand-wringing.”

This past summer, the USA Freedom Act was passed, which was in many ways a direct reaction to the Snowden revelations. The USA Freedom Act was meant to reform some of the overreaching aspects of the Patriot Act. For example, it eliminated the bulk metadata phone collection. But it did not eliminate email collection and a few other things. It did require that the FISA Court — which is a secret court — publicize the most important decisions that it makes.

But the USA Freedom Act was viewed, by most, as a very modest reform of the Patriot Act. If Director Brennan is saying that’s “hand-wringing,” it’s really not clear what else he is asking for. If he’s implying that he would like to go back to some of the programs like Section 215 — those have been ruled by many courts, and now by law, as illegal programs."

Read the full interview here