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Gitmo Lawyer, Emory Prof Debate NSA Snooping

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An Emory University Law School panel last week addressed Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans in an era of unprecedented electronic communication and data-collecting capabilities.

"As prosecutors and law enforcement officers, we have a tremendous amount of power," said the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, Sally Quillian Yates. "Where is the balance between keeping our country safe and protecting civil liberties?" she asked, adding that rapidly changing technology has created a new situation.

What is needed, she said, "is a robust discussion on what is an acceptable level of intrusion into our privacy."

Yates appeared on the Oct. 16 panel organized by the Anti-Defamation League with FBI agent Mark Giuliano, Emory constitutional law professor Charles Shanor and King & Spalding partner John Chandler, who represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The ADL's Bill Nigut was the moderator.

The panelists discussed old-fashioned wiretapping and email interception—and then the newer type of metadata collection revealed by Snowden's leaks of NSA documents.

The Guardian's June stories about the documents revealed that the NSA is collecting and storing records of Americans' phone calls and email communications, called metadata. The phone records, which are retained for five years, provide data on the numbers that people call, the time, and for cell phones, their location.

And the Snowden leaks keep coming. An Oct. 14 Washington Post story reported that the NSA is also storing Americans' email address books, along with those of foreign nationals.

Giuliano, who oversaw the FBI's National Security Branch until becoming the special agent in charge of the Atlanta division last year, told the audience of about 60 people that his agency is bound by "robust rules and oversight" on eavesdropping.

"We do not have the authority to data-mine U.S. citizens. There has got to be a threshold to step up [to that level]. We can't do it for a preliminary inquiry," he said.

But Chandler said he has experienced NSA spying and government secrecy first-hand while representing six Yemeni men who are still being held at Guantanamo. Four of them were cleared for release several years ago.

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