I open up Google News this morning and I’m greeted by this headline:
NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal
•Top secret PRISM program claims direct access to servers of firms including Google, Facebook and Apple
•Companies deny any knowledge of program in operation since 2007
This news actually broke a couple of days ago but it was limited to one cell phone carrier giving up all of its transactional metadata on its customers. Since then we’ve found out that it isn’t just cell phone information but also everything digital in our lives.
It isn’t like we really didn’t know this was happening, how could we not know with the theme of so many of the story lines running through pop culture pointing directly to Big Brother and his surveillence abilities. This can’t be a surprise but it is confirmation of our fears of a reality we didn’t want to admit to.
So where do we go with this knowledge? For one thing we need to acknowledge that there does need to be intelligence gathering efforts by our Department of Defense and some of the details of those efforts do need to remain secret. However, with secrecy comes a limit to the oversight so what remains secret needs to be kept to a minimum. And, see, that’s what I don’t think people in government grasp. For instance, we have this from James Clapper:
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in an unusual late-night statement Thursday, denounced the leaks of highly classified documents that revealed the programs and warned that America’s security will suffer. He called the disclosure of a program that targets foreigners’ Internet use “reprehensible,” and said the leak of another program that lets the government collect Americans’ phone records would affect how America’s enemies behave and make it harder to understand their intentions.
“The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,” Clapper said of the phone-tracking program.
See, I don’t think he fully understands that one of the threats facing our nation comes from our own government. The more stuff the government does behind our back the more stuff we start imagining them doing behind our back when stories like this come to light. We lose trust in the government when we learn that they have secretly been doing things that might step over the line of what we authorized them to do in our constitution. You don’t subject us to unreasonable seach and siezures without probable cause and this snooping appears to have been an unreasonable search without probable cause.
I am somewhat encouraged, though, that maybe those in charge do have some understanding of my concerns. Mr. Clapper has declassified the two programs that were leaked:
At the same time, he offered new information about both programs, saying he wanted to correct the “misleading impression” created by out-of-context news articles even as he acknowledged that publicly discussing the programs comes with inherent security risks.
“I believe it is important for the American people to understand the limits of this targeted counterterrorism program and the principles that govern its use,” Clapper said.
The problem is that if you keep it secret we are going to imagine the worse when the secret becomes public knowledge, and it will become public knowledge. Someone will leak it. You just need to understand that those leaking the information are probably more hero than villain.