I'm really getting sick of the rationalizations of the surveillance state.
In judging the action of whistle-blowers, three criteria apply. They must have clear and convincing evidence of abuse. Publishing the information must not pose a disproportionate threat to public safety. And the leak must be as limited in scope and scale as possible. Snowden failed all three of these tests.
The documents published thus far do not depict a rogue agency. They indicate—with partial, out-of-date and ambiguous evidence, mostly consisting of out-of-context presentation slides—that the NSA has plenty of flaws. How could it not? Like other government agencies and bureaucracies, it pushes the limits of its regulatory, political and judicial constraints. That is not surprising. Like people everywhere, NSA officials brag. They make mistakes (and get disciplined for them). Again, not too surprising.
To justify even a limited breach of secrecy, Snowden would need to prove something far more: evidence of systematic, gross wrongdoing, based on wilful contempt for judicial, legislative and political oversight. In such circumstances, the actions of a Daniel Ellsberg can be justified.
But nothing published by Snowden shows that. The NSA revealed in these documents looks nothing like J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. And Barack Obama, for all his faults, is not Richard Nixon, using the power of the state to go after his domestic enemies. On the contrary: The United States has put the most elusive and lawless part of government—intelligence—into the strongest system of legislative and judicial control anywhere in the world. Some want it still stronger (I think it’s too cumbersome and intrusive). But such questions are for the political process to settle. They do not justify catastrophic and destructive leaking.
The Snowdenistas’ second line of defense is that they have at least sparked a debate. But a public discussion, and limited reforms, on issues such as the use of National Security Letters (secret FBI orders to force people and businesses to cooperate with law enforcement), the privacy risks of warehousing metadata and whether “zero-day” exploits (vulnerabilities in computer hardware and software) should be instantly patched or exploited for espionage—are limited benefits, not overwhelming ones. They do not justify catastrophic damage either. The question of whether we house telephone metadata at the NSA or house it at tech companies is not exactly the difference between tyranny and freedom.
Edward Lucas tells us that a public discussion about this totally unprecedented mass domestic electronic surveillance program is of "limited benefit." Well, he is entitled to his own opinion, but as this country is supposedly a democracy, most Americans also feel entitled to their opinions about major domestic public policy issues, and that would be impossible if not for the fact of... [ Read More (0.3k in body) ]