Philosophy professor to help in case against NSA
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 23:09
A UConn philosophy professor is challenging the constitutionality and morality of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance.
The professor, Michael P. Lynch, is also an author and a contributor to the New York Times blog “The Stone” and “Opinionator” online commentary section. He is an associate fellow of the Northern Institute of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen and the associate fellow of Arché at the University of St. Andrews.
As an author, Lynch has dealt with ideas such as this before.
“Two of my books have to do with the role truth and reason plays in a civil society,” Lynch said. “There is even a chapter on transparency in government.”
Lynch’s disapproval of NSA surveillance, which The Guardian described as both “indiscriminate” and practiced “regardless of whether (citizens) are suspected of any wrongdoing,” has led to his filing of an amicus brief. This allows for him to help the American Civil Liberties Union in their case against the NSA, ACLU v. Clapper.
According to the ACLU, “The lawsuit argues that the program violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and association as well as the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment.”
The ACLU announced their case in light of The Guardian story stipulating that the NSA “requires” Verizon to allow them daily access to the entirety of their telephone data. The Guardian’s story was published June 5, 2013. The ACLU announced their upcoming lawsuit six days later and they filed their first brief of the case on Aug. 26.
What makes this ACLU lawsuit, which challenges the NSA’s domestic spying efforts different from previous bids, such as their 2008 attempt, is that the organization claims to have had their phones tapped. An Associated Press article published Feb. 19, 2008 refers to the ACLU suit, “The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, saying the plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been monitored.”
As filed in a brief by the ACLU, Lynch will function to “provide the court with an analytical and philosophical framework for contextualizing and evaluating the issues at stake in the plaintiffs’ challenge to the collection of their telephony metadata collection by the government.”
Amicus briefs are traditionally used for moral arguments, giving Lynch a more abstract role in the case.
While the attorneys for the ACLU will be focusing on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program, Lynch will be speaking to its supposed harmful effects, including the issues of liberty, personal autonomy and human dignity. Lynch will assist the ACLU in articulating these points in addition to their arguments about unconstitutionality.
Lynch does not view the case “solely as a political or legal concept.” He is instead focused on the idea “that the mind is essentially private.” He argues that the government’s ability to comb through millions of people’s phone records is a threat to “our very status as subjective, autonomous persons.”
The ACLU originally called Lynch to discuss his New York Times piece.
“They were interested to know whether I wanted to support their case,” Lynch said. “And I definitely did.”
Lynch associates his primary function in the case with his primary existential purpose.
“The main role I have here, both in this particular case and the wider world, is to bring the moral case to life,” Lynch said.