A former civil rights lawyer considers changing attitudes regarding personal privacy within the National Security Agency following the disclosures by Edward Snowden.
Formerly a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and then a civil liberties protection officer for the Director of National Intelligence and the Obama White House, Edgar (International and Public Affairs/Brown Univ.) is well-versed in, and sympathetic to, the concerns of both civil liberties advocates and the national security establishment. In this debut, he argues that while their interests will always be in tension, both groups share fundamentally similar values, and NSA personnel try hard to respect legal limitations regarding the privacy rights of Americans (foreigners, not so much). However, these limitations have recently shifted in confusing ways, and their interpretations take time to understand and implement. Edgar suggests that a major problem in managing intelligence collection is that only the NSA really understands what it is doing, and hardly anyone in Congress, the courts, or the administration is adequately informed about its top-secret activities and interested in, or even capable of, providing suitable monitoring and correction. Another is that the laws governing privacy protections were written for an analog world and cannot be effectively applied in the digital era where concepts like the location of data are increasingly meaningless. The author includes a dozen specific recommendations for legal, procedural, and technical changes to our approach to electronic surveillance. While his basic themes are clear, Edgar's argument can be difficult to follow. This is in part because the topic is a highly technical one, and government secrecy prevents the author from enlivening his points with concrete examples. Readers may struggle to keep straight the shifting state of the law or to understand why the changes are significant and where they lead. In this, reader confusion and frustration perhaps mirror those of NSA workers themselves.
A perceptive but discouraging analysis of the current state of government electronic surveillance.