"I'd like you to imagine a place where the government recorded everything that you said," Larry Walters began his speech at UCF.
Extra chairs were hauled into the Cape Florida Ballroom C Wednesday night, as a crowd of about 130 students filed inside. The relatively small, third-floor room in the Student Union was packed with attendees sitting knee-to-knee in tight rows of chairs, or standing against the back wall. Some were there for extra credit. Others came exclusively to see First Amendment attorney, Larry Walters, discuss NSA surveillance — an issue that he believes uniquely affects college students.
"I'd like you to imagine a place where the government recorded everything that you said," Walters began, depicting a society where the authorities tracked all purchases, movements and keystrokes, created secret courts that made secret rules, told police to lie, monitored social networks and other websites with taxpayer dollars, and was accountable to no one.
"Well, unfortunately we live there. It's the United States of America," Walters said.
"I found that shocking," said Cynthia Shmidt, director for the Center for Law and Policy in UCF's Legal Studies department. "I also thought 'Will he be able to defend that?' over the course of the presentation. He did."
In Walters' "Threats to Your Privacy Rights: The Chilling Effects of Online Surveillance" presentation, he discussed his view of the "true grave nature" of NSA wire tapping and other surveillance efforts, spanning numerous topics for nearly two hours. The event was part of UCF's Department of Legal Studies' 2014-15 Distinguished Speakers Series.
A 1985 UCF graduate, Walters is a member of the university's Legal Studies Advisory Board and launched the Florida Bar's First Amendment Law Committee. He's also been featured on ABC, NBC, Fox News and MSNBC, and is the founder and director of Walters Law Group in Orlando.
By the end of his presentation, Walters said he hoped to convince students to actively protect themselves and get involved with opposition efforts.
"College-aged are students essential to opposing mass surveillance," Walters said, describing his audience as extremely susceptible to interceptions in digital communication.
Shmidt later commented that because students have so much of their lives on their phones, their generation is more susceptible to the government's intrusions.
In discussing the "dangers of mass data collection," Walters said that everyone is susceptible, because information can be obtained without a warrant or suspicion of criminal activity. This can put an innocent people at risk, Walters said, because if anyone is suspected of a crime, "investigators can go back in time and cherry pick info to make anyone out to be a villain or a hero."
Mike Magliaro, a senior legal studies major, attended the event for extra credit.
"I guess, previously, I didn't really realize that anything they do affected regular citizens," Magliaro said.
Walters described the "biggest problem with government surveillance" as the "chilling effect," a phenomenon in which actions and communications are stifled as a result of knowing that the NSA could be intercepting personal communications.
"It's a form of prior restraint. It stops you from engaging in free speech," Walters said. "That's the danger, the real collateral damage to the NSA spying program."
Jessica Fleet, a junior political science major, came to the presentation to learn more about surveillance.
"It was riveting how he talked about the chilling effect … it's really just so scary. It's something that really does affect all of us," she said.
Students wanting to take action were encouraged to get involved in opposition groups such as the Student Net Alliance. To learn more, go to studentnetalliance.org.