Friday, June 7, 2013

low dudgeon

The electrons are flying fast and furious in response to reports of collection programs by the National Security Agency. Editorial boards, media commentators, and politicians are all in high dudgeon, treating this as worse than the outrageous domestic surveillance activities by the FBI and CIA in the 1960s.

Given what I've seen so far, however, I'm only in low dudgeon. There have been intrusive secret programs -- constrained by laws passed by Congress and subject to some oversight by a special court -- so that shouldn't be surprising. What would trouble me is if the electronic spies went beyond the limits that Congress intended and NSA officials have long accepted.

The strongest reason for suspecting that the spies may have gone too far is that someone put a career in jeopardy, and risked the aggressive prosecution of leaks that the Obama administration has conducted, by becoming a whistleblower. Whatever troubled that person deserves to be reviewed by the congressional intelligence committees.

But few leaks meet the high standard of democracy-enhancing. Many do more harm than good.

The least persuasive arguments defending these leaks come from the news media, who are self-interested in protecting leaks and leakers and who rarely restrain themselves.Walter Pincus wrote a helpful corrective analysis of the AP case this week that should be kept in mind as we assess these latest revelations.

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