Skip to content Skip to navigation

Surveillance Law

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 to Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Go to Course

About the Course

It’s easy to be cynical about government surveillance. In recent years, a parade of Orwellian disclosures have been making headlines. The FBI, for example, is hacking into computers that run anonymizing software. The NSA is vacuuming up domestic phone records. Even local police departments are getting in on the act, tracking cellphone location history and intercepting signals in realtime.

Perhaps 2014 is not quite 1984, though. This course explores how American law facilitates electronic surveillance—but also substantially constrains it. You will learn the legal procedures that police and intelligence agencies have at their disposal, as well as the security and privacy safeguards built into those procedures. The material also provides brief, not-too-geeky technical explanations of some common surveillance methods.

Suggested Readings

There is no required textbook for the course. All readings will be provided online.

Several tomes discuss electronic surveillance in detail. For further reading, you might consider Dragnet Nation and No Place to Hide. If you'd like a more lawyerly take, we highly recommend the (free and public) Department of Justice manual on electronic evidence. A number of casebooks also touch on government surveillance, including Criminal Procedure: InvestigationInformation Privacy Law, and Internet Law

Much of the best legal writing on electronic surveillance is posted to blogs. You might also take a look at The Volokh ConspiracyLawfare, and Just Security

Keep in mind that this area of law is evolving rapidly. If you encounter an explanation that seems outdated, it probably is. When this material was last offered at Stanford, for example, the law changed multiple times during the course.

Course Format

The class will consist primarily of lectures, each about 5-10 minutes long. There will be occasional assigned quizzes; they are intended to make sure you understand the material and should not be too tricky. You will also be expected to participate in forum discussions.


View All Courses

Access learning material from upcoming, self-study, and completed courses...