BELOIT - Conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom at Beloit College welcomed former U.S. Attorney General and Missouri Governor John Ashcroft to Beloit for a lecture Wednesday night at Pearsons Hall.
Ashcroft, attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, served as the top U.S. law enforcement official from 2001 to 2005.
During his talk, Ashcroft discussed national security, liberty and the state of surveillance in the U.S. before taking questions from the group of around 100 students, faculty and staff.
"When we seek to defend liberty...I think we have to understand that security is not a way to derogate it or to compromise it," Ashcroft said. "It's a way to enhance it and to reinforce it and to respect it."
Students asked tough questions ranging from Ashcroft's oversight and implementation of the U.S. Patriot Act; the country's involvement in the Middle East since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; and how America's high incarceration rate impacted the pursuit of liberty.
Key policies touched on during Ashcroft's speech included the handling of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) system, an apparatus that oversees requests for surveillance warrants, and potential changes he felt could boost public trust in the secretive court system.
Ashcroft also discussed the debate surrounding the alleged abuses within the FISA system. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was opening an investigation into potential abuses of the system by law enforcement.
Ashcroft said potential changes to the FISA process included modifying ways government agencies applied for surveillance requests, noting that agencies should potentially have to provide all information, including exculpatory information, during FISA hearings. He added that allowing the addition of an entity present to cross examine the applying government agency would allow FISA court judges more information in granting highly-classified, invasive court orders.
"Those are the kinds of things that would enhance the confidence of the American people in the system," Ashcroft said.
On Nov. 1, Beloit College student group Students for an Inclusive Campus sent a letter to college administrators protesting against Ashcroft's visit. No demonstrators interrupted Wednesday's event.