Sunday, November 3, 2013

NSA childishness

The National Security Agency has been in operation for just over half a century, but it appears to be behaving no better than a teenager. As David Ignatius argues in a persuasive column today,
The NSA documents that have surfaced reveal an exuberant, almost adolescent quality among the tech wizards who blew through privacy barriers. They gave their top-secret projects colorful code names such as Boundless Informant or Egotistical Giraffe. They created compartments with mottoes that sound like playground boasts: “Nothing but net” and “The mission never sleeps.” Hannah Arendt wrote famously of the “banality of evil.” This group makes one realize that childishness can be a characteristic, too. Like many hackers, NSA operatives seem to have done things sometimes for the thrill of it, just because they could.
Much of the NSA collection could potentially be valuable, but the sheer magnitude of its efforts increased the likelihood of disclosures and blowback, which we are now experiencing. Another must-read on this subject is Scott Shane's lengthy piece in the New York Times, with the headline, "No Morsel Too Minuscule for All-Consuming NSA."

I agree with Ignatius that Edward Snowden is no hero. "The way he chose to reveal programs that were legally authorized (albeit in some cases unwisely) has created severe problems for the United States and will cost tens of billions of dollars for U.S. companies that cooperated with court orders and NSA requests."

The long-run consequences are likely to be even worse, as Ingatius suggests: "that nations will try to ring-fence their data within national borders. That anti-globalization move won’t stop the spies, but it will slow commerce and innovation and make digital life harder for everyone."

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