Must-Read on WaPo’s latest NSA story

July 7, 2014

After you read the new NSA story in the Washington Post, read this polite assessment-bordering-on-rebuttal by Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare.  Two money excerpts:

Of course incidental collection involving non-targets will outnumber collection against targets—by a lot. The simple reason is that a single target communicates with a great many people. The percentage of that target’s communications with another target will be relatively low, and there will always be incidental collection around a target that does not directly involve him or her at all: think of a target’s child borrowing his cell phone or using his computer. Intelligence collection is all about sweeping in information broadly and then winnowing it down and finding the important facts. Inherent in that project—and certainly contemplated by the law in a number of respects—is the idea that you’re going to collect a lot of material involving a lot of people beyond targets. It’s all but mathematically certain that this will be the lion’s share of the take.


I want to say a word here about the ethics of this leak. Snowden here did not leak programmatic information about government activity. He leaked many tens of thousands of personal communications of a type that, in government hands, are rightly subject to strict controls….Yes, the Post has kept personal identifying details from the public, and that is laudable. But Snowden did not keep personal identifying details from the Post. He basically outed thousands of people—innocent and not—and left them to the tender mercies of journalists. This is itself a huge civil liberties violation. And we should talk about it as such. I suspect, alas, that we won’t.


Ryan Evans is the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.

Image: Wikileaks, modified by WOTR