The Antioch University Santa Barbara Trustee Forum hosted a discussion panel on Tuesday titled “How Can We Balance Homeland Security and Personal Privacy?”
The community event, moderated by journalist and AUSB Trustee Jerry Roberts, provided an opportunity for discussion on one of the hottest topics since the 9/11 attacks.
The forum was the latest in a series of community events presented by AUSB, and it aimed to address “complex issues raised by President Obama's proposed reforms of policies governing the National Security Agency's collection of the personal data of Americans.”
“Technology has made the massing of personal information astonishingly easy,” said Roberts, a former managing editor for the San Francisco Chronicle and a former editor and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Roberts is also the co-founder of Calbuzz.com, considered by the Washington Post to be California’s best nonpartisan website covering state politics, and provides political analysis for public radio stations such as KCRW-FM in Los Angeles, KCLU-FM in Ventura,and KGO-AM in San Francisco.
Experts Andrew Liepman and Brian Jenkins addressed Robert’s opening statement and attempted to answer three key questions: What is the current terrorist threat to the United States? Has the government over-reached? Have National Security Agency and anti-terrorism programs worked?
Liepman generally applauded American anti-terrorism efforts.
“We have made progress. [Al-Qaeda] is not as capable today. The notion that the NSA is collecting all this information on us is a little misleading,” he continued, arguing that there are simply not enough people to consult every piece of data collected. “Is the NSA a rogue organization? It is not.”
Jenkins is a senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corp. and the author of numerous books, reports and articles on terrorism-related topics.
Jenkins was generally more skeptical of American anti-terrorism efforts.
“We can’t let our imagined fears drive security policy,” he said. “What they collect [daily] is equivalent to all holdings of the U.S. Library of Congress.”
In addition, Jenkins provided insight into one of the United States’ greatest tragedies.
“In 25 minutes, 25,000 people got out. That’s a success story,” he said, referring to the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks and attributing the success to extensive, preventive emergency evacuations plans.
The panel included a heavy discussion of the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
Liepman addressed a shift in thinking since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. “It’s a whole lot different think about [the fourth amendment] today,” he said. “If I were to tell you on September 12th,  that so few people would be killed by terrorists in the next 13 years, people who have laughed.
“People need to tell us if we are going to far [with security].”
In the end, both experts agreed that anti-terrorism programs are working; however, it remains unclear whether or not these successes are the result of the NSA's data collection programs.
Jenkins encouraged citizens to take this matter into their own hands.
“This is not a debate for lawyers or for courts,” he said. “This is a debate for us and what we are willing to risk.”