The Catholic University of America

 John Heekin (2L) speaks as respondent Timothy Nagle looks on.

Big Brother is Watching - on Both Sides of the Pond


Those who believe there is no privacy on the Internet are right. In recent years, the government’s ability to spy on, monitor or otherwise keep track of people is increasing, generally with the support of lawmakers.

And if Americans feel they are being watched by Big Brother, it’s even worse in Great Britain.
Catholic University law student John Heekin (2L) traced the history of legislative approaches undertaken by the United States and the United Kingdom to regulate the surveillance and interception of electronic communications. His address, “Leashing the Internet Watchdog:  Legislative Restraints on Electronic Surveillance,” was delivered at the Columbus School of Law on April 22 as the fourth and final installment for the academic year of the Student Scholar Series, instituted by Professor A.G. Harmon in 2009 to recognize notable legal scholarship produced by members of the student body.
Heekin’s study examined the development and impact of statutory provisions meant to accomplish effective oversight of the respective intelligence services. In the United States, the modern baseline for legislative oversight was established in 1978 with the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Since then, various foreign crisis and military entanglements have prompted many revisions to the original law, most approved with a distinct deference to executive authority for carrying out electronic surveillance operations. Today, for example, the CIA director has the authority to order lethal missile strikes from Predator drones aloft over Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite this, however, mechanisms for legislative oversight remain in place in the United States.
That is less true in the United Kingdom, Heekin’s study found, where the parliamentary power to regulate the security and intelligence services is significantly restricted, in part by the legislature itself. 
British lawmakers have chosen to limit their access to classified operations, leaving knowledge of and control over such activities predominantly with the Prime Minister’s office. 
Heekin theorized that the different approaches between the two allies may be explained by differing rationales.
In the United States, legislative oversight regarding surveillance operations is rooted in the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. In the United Kingdom, however, parliament’s oversight role is circumscribed by The Human Rights Act 1998, which defers to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Timothy Nagle, former deputy associate general counsel for the NSA, served as respondent, asking questions and clarifying key points.