Indiana State University Newsroom

University of Columbia professor speaks about surveillance

October 1, 2010

A Columbia University professor, speaking at Indiana State University, argued President Barack Obama has taken the same position as former President George W. Bush on the wire-tapping of phone calls.

Since the end of 2001, approximately five trillion phone calls have been made in the United States and the government collected information on each one, said Roger Newman, professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and author of "Hugo Black."

"‘This call may be monitored' now takes on a new meaning," he said.

The National Security Administration collected records of all text messages and phone calls after Sept. 11, 2001, Newman said. Warrants are no longer needed for the government to wire-tap phone calls, as long as "reasons of national security" exist, he said.

A New York Times article in December 2005 brought the surveillance issue to the forefront, exposing the Bush administration's authorization of the NSA to wire-tap international calls, Newman said.

Legislation was passed in 2008 that amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was enacted in 1978. As a senator, Obama supported the legislation and now, as president, has taken a similar position as Bush, Newman said.

"The only difference is that the administration is saying very little indeed about all of this," Newman said.

Newman also referenced McCarthyism, a movement in the 1950s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy that accused hundreds of people in the United States of being communists.

"Almost anything committed in the name of anti-communism was excused as we set up blacklists, used loyalty oaths, found guilty by association and put people under suspicion, not for what they did, but for their identity," Newman said. "The focus then was on political pleas instead of on legally admissible evidence."

Newman spoke at ISU on Sept. 28 to celebrate Constitution Day. His speech came during Banned Books Week. He co-authored "Banned Films: Movies, Censors and the First Amendment."

"Banning is terrible in a democracy. Once you start [the surveillance of] people, is there any end?" Newman said. "If the first casualty of war is truth, civil liberty is second."

More than 600 students participated in the various Constitution Day events, said Darlene Hantzis, professor of communication and women's studies and campus coordinator of the American Democracy Project.

According to Hantzis, it is important to celebrate Constitution Day "to understand the constitution as a living document."

"We are the ones responsible for ensuring that what we do with this democracy is what was intended for it," she said.

Newman's visit was sponsored by the University Honors program, the Center for Community Engagement and the American Democracy Project.

"It's important to expose our students to a range of people, someone who is going to be challenging," Hantzis said. "It is important for our students to hear from someone who has an academic posture. Roger Newman is a really good example of a public intellectual."

Mallory Metheny, a freshman communication major from Terre Haute, acknowledges the importance of Constitution Day.

"It lets students be aware of the value of the Constitution and some of the rights we oftentimes take for granted," Metheny said.

Newman's presentation gave students the opportunity to learn about the government and the steps it has taken to monitor the actions of American citizens.

"It was very interesting to listen to because it was over a topic I normally wouldn't think about too much," Metheny said.

Newman's biography of Hugo Black, one of the longest serving justices on the Supreme Court, won the Scribes Book Award - the American Society of Writers on Legal Subjects and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1995. He edited "The Constitution and Its Amendments." His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation and The American Lawyer, as well as many other publications. Newman has appeared on NPR, PBS C-Span and Entertainment Tonight.

Roger Newman speaks at Indiana State University. ISU Photo

Contact: Darlene Hantzis, Indiana State University, professor of communication and women's studies and campus coordinator for the American Democracy Project, at 812-237-3658 or

Writer: Lana Schrock, Indiana State University, media relations assistant, at 812-237-3773 or