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Schneier on Security: NSA Secrecy and Personal Privacy

Stashed in: Privacy does not exist., National Security

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NSA Secrecy and Personal PrivacyIn an excellent essay about privacy and secrecy, law professor Daniel Solove makes an important point. There are two types of NSA secrecy being discussed. It's easy to confuse them, but they're very different.

Of course, if the government is trying to gather data about a particular suspect, keeping the specifics of surveillance efforts secret will decrease the likelihood of that suspect altering his or her behavior.

But secrecy at the level of an individual suspect is different from keeping the very existence of massive surveillance programs secret. The public must know about the general outlines of surveillance activities in order to evaluate whether the government is achieving the appropriate balance between privacy and security. What kind of information is gathered? How is it used? How securely is it kept? What kind of oversight is there? Are these activities even legal? These questions can't be answered, and the government can't be held accountable, if surveillance programs are completely classified.

This distinction is also becoming important as Snowden keeps talking. There are a lot of articlesabout Edward Snowden cooperating with the Chinese government. I have no idea if this is true -- Snowden denies it -- or if they're part of an American smear campaign designed to change the debate from the NSA surveillance programs to the whistleblower's actions. (It worked against Assange.) In anticipation of the inevitable questions, I want to change a previous assessmentstatement: I consider Snowden a hero for whistleblowing on the existence and details of the NSA surveillance programs, but not for revealing specific operational secrets to the Chinese government. Charles Pierce wishes Snowden would stop talking. I agree; the more this story is about him the less it is about the NSA. Stop giving interviews and let the documents do the talking.

Back to Daniel Solove, this excellent 2011 essay on the value of privacy is making the rounds again. And it should.

Great essay. Thank you Jared!!

Some great comments following the essay, as well.  Thanks Jared!

Yeah, they're smearing the whistleblower instead of admitting that MAYBE the NSA overreached.

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