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Attorney Cindy Cohn Fights NSA Citizen Surveillance

Cindy Cohn (right) Appearing at California Western School of Law

Is the NSA reading your emails? That’s the question attorney Cindy Cohn came to California Western to answer.

The answer she gave during her presentation, “A Conversation with Cindy Cohn,” was a resounding “yes.”

“They know who you’re talking to and it’s creepy and annoying,” Cohn said, at the event sponsored by the San Diego Lawyer Chapter and California Western School of Law Chapters of the American Constitution Society and the local chapter of the ACLU. “The NSA’s goal is to make sure nothing happens in the world that they don’t have immediate access to,” she said.

It is said that Cohn is the woman the NSA fears most—she is the legal director and general counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and is one of the most powerful voices against NSA surveillance on U.S. citizens.  

“We have to fight this on all fronts, and EFF is doing that,” Cohn said. “We can’t have a democracy if people can’t have a private conversation.”

One major argument in favor of NSA surveillance is that issues of national security are involved, including preventing terrorist attacks, though Cohn pointed out that not one attack has been stopped by NSA surveillance.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to create a national security exception. That would be a mistake,” said Cohn. And she adds that “President Obama could stop it at any time.”

Cohn’s advice to the average citizen on fighting back over NSA spying?

“Make your voice heard!” she said.

California Western students who came to hear Cohn were impressed to hear a speaker of her caliber at the law school.

“I saw her on The Colbert Report, and she is someone I was very interested in seeing,” said 1L Michael R. Mende after the presentation. “It’s amazing to have her here.”

“These are incredibly important issues we’re talking about,” said 2L Rafael Yakobi.

“I agree with Rafael that it’s very important to talk about these issues, so I appreciate the American Constitution Society bringing her here to talk to us,” said 2L Dominique F. Boley.

"We work with EFF attorneys a lot and it’s great to have such a preeminent person in this field at the law school,” said adjunct professor Art Neill, director of California Western’s New Media Rights Clinic (NMR), adding that the same types of clients Cohn repesents on privacy issues, NMR represents on copyright and free speech issues. “We work to make sure our clients have the right to speak. They are the same people that are particularly vulnerable when you talk about surveillance and privacy issues.”

 “It’s critical that we have speakers like Cindy here because San Diego is quickly becoming a cyber security hub,” said NMR staff attorney fellow and adjunct professor Teri Karobonik. “If we’re going to teach the next generation of lawyers to serve those companies, we really need to not only understand the broader privacy laws but their impact on society from activists and artists to the everyday person.”

To learn more about New Media Rights, visit their website.