Sorry, I'm not especially bothered by the government's access to phone records, and, potentially, to online usage. The president was right when he said that it's not possible to have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy - even though many Americans seem to feel they are entitled to 100 percent everything. (We want to buy shirts and sweaters at dirt-cheap prices, but we also want to be assured that there aren't 12-year-old kids making 20 cents an hour to make them.) What I am bothered by is how some low-level disenchanted punk was given access to such sensitive information in the first place. If there's anything good to come out of this episode, it would be a serious look at classified access. From Farhad Manjoo on Slate:
Let's note what [Edward] Snowden is not: He isn't a seasoned FBI or CIA investigator. He isn't a State Department analyst. He's not an attorney with a specialty in national security or privacy law. Instead, he's the IT guy, and not a very accomplished, experienced one at that. If Snowden had sent his résumé to any of the tech companies that are providing data to the NSA's PRISM program, I doubt he'd have even gotten an interview. Yes, he could be a computing savant anyway--many well-known techies dropped out of school. But he was given access way beyond what even a supergeek should have gotten. As he tells the Guardian, the NSA let him see "everything." He was accorded the NSA's top security clearance, which allowed him to see and to download the agency's most sensitive documents. But he didn't just know about the NSA's surveillance systems--he says he had the ability to use them. "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities [sic] to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email," he says in a video interview with the paper.
Along the same lines, here's Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg:
Many Americans understand that our country actually does face a threat from Islamist violence (see, for instance, the Boston bombings, and dozens of plots, both successful and unconsummated, before them), and that the collection and analysis of data by our intelligence agencies seems somewhat benign when compared to, say, the mass deployment of assassination drones. Which brings me to a main concern: the general competence of said intelligence agencies. The NSA -- which obviously does an excellent job collecting data that may save lives -- apparently didn't understand, or care, that a disaffected, self-aggrandizing 29-year-old libertarian had seemingly untrammeled access to some of its most highly classified programs. How can the White House assure us that they're protecting the country from terrorism if the NSA can't protect its own secrets? And if it can't protect its own secrets, what makes it competent to protect ours? Let's assume that the NSA one day will be, as a matter of course, sweeping up medical records, or records of all purchases made on Amazon.com, in its hunt for patterns of I-don't-know-what. Would you trust the NSA to keep those records private? Of course not. How could you?