For U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., the government should strive to enhance national security without infringing on privacy rights. On Friday morning, Heinrich addressed UNM students on the topic of cyber security, describing it as a vital field in need of reform.
“We need to reign in the dragline approach to surveillance and focus on directly targeting the terrorists,” Heinrich said. “We can and we must balance the government’s need to keep our nation safe with its duty to protect our constitutionally guaranteed liberties. In my view we need substantial legal and policy reforms.”
Heinrich, who was the keynote speaker for the National Security Studies Program’s annual symposium, kicked off the day’s events with his speech.
Heinrich said one of the reasons for the country’s incorrect surveillance procedure is the rapidity of its introduction and incorporation into the legislative system. He said the U.S. lacks knowledge about potential national threats, such as Al-Qaeda, which results with the mentality that excessive monitoring will remedy this.
“In our rush to realign our national security apparatus, our governments took some steps too quickly, in my view, and without giving them the full consideration they deserved,” he said. Heinrich said section 215 of the Patriot Act is one example of the national government making an important decision too quickly.
Section 215 reformed the Patriot Act to give the government much more control over monitoring the electronic devices of normal citizens, which expands its reach in technical surveillance procedures.
Heinrich said the government should reform surveillance systems to encourage clear and honest communication from the government about intelligence collection initiatives.
“One way to accomplish this is through increased transparency and accountability, so that we can have necessary public debates over these issues and avoid secret interpretation of our laws,” he said, “In the meantime, those of us who understand the potential for abuse of these collection efforts need to redouble our efforts to shift the intelligence community’s collection paradigm back to one that is narrowly focused on actual threats and respectful of the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens.”
Heinrich said he was part of a group of senators who challenged the National Security Agency and U.S. director of national intelligence to produce examples in which data collection was crucial for capturing a terrorist or revealing a terrorist plot. He said the NSA was unable to do so.
Frank Gilfeather, director of the NSSP, said UNM is one of only 16 universities in the nation designated as Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence. He said this department has been hosting the symposium for the past five years, and Heinrich’s address is a huge asset.
“When he joined the U.S. Senate, he got some very key committee assignments,” he said. “One of them was the Energy Committee, but he also got assigned to the Intelligence Committee. This became a very great opportunity for us because he, as well as Sen. Udall from Colorado, are both on that committee and have tremendous say in the very important and exciting things happening in the intelligence community.”
Heinrich said the U.S. Congress is working on a legislative solution that will end bulk collection of citizen data and will instead focus more intensely on the records of known terrorists.
Heinrich said he urges students to get involved and take control of the issue. He said public input is extremely helpful to him when deciding which legislation needs to be voted on.
“Be part of the debate” he said. “Express your concerns. When you think the government has not implemented a law in the way true to its intent or you think a program is overreaching let your elected officials know. Give them the capacity and support of the community to try and change those things.”