Amid the continuing saga of the NSA affair—spanning from the German debate about privacy and security to the USA Freedom Act—there is now another set of perspectives on the impact of Edward Snowden’s revelations of surveillance activities by U.S. intelligence agencies. Ronald Goldfarb has delivered a set of essays in the edited volume After Snowden: Privacy, Secrecy and Security in the Information Age (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), which raise some unanswered questions for both policymakers and the public at large.
Among these questions are: Was Edward Snowden a patriot or a traitor? Should we expect more people to follow in his footsteps? What should be done about leakers? How far do American privacy rights extend to U.S. citizens? What about those rights of non-Americans? When it comes to government secrecy, where are the parameters of oversight, accountability, and responsibility and where are the boundaries of checks and balances to be found?
Drawing on a range of individuals with government experience as well as scholarly experts, Goldfarb assembles insights into the role of the media, the courts, and Congress in reviewing the challenges of balancing privacy and national security.
The red line that runs through these essays is the critical look at how we should evaluate the intelligence capabilities that have emerged over the past nearly fourteen years since 9/11. We are left with more questions than answers.
How effective has the massive increase in surveillance in and outside the United States been in preventing another terrorist attack? How do we measure that against the need for protecting privacy? Have our policies that were designed to shape, regulate, and control those efforts been outpaced by both intelligence agencies and the technology available to them? How much secrecy can a democracy tolerate in the name of security?
The debate over getting that equation right continues on both sides of the Atlantic, but the U.S. debate has been on center stage after the Snowden revelations. These essays are succinct summaries of the challenges currently in the battle over the Patriot Act. They offer the reader an overview of the many different layers of the institutional web of intelligence policymaking and the increasing pace of advances in digital technology in both the public and private sectors, shaping the environment of both.
The bottom line is a call for more transparency to explain to a now deeply suspicious public why and what the government can do, should do, and should not do in securing national security. The American domestic debate is well reviewed.
The one drawback is that the essays say virtually nothing about how that debate should address non-Americans’ interests and the stakes in their own privacy as well as their security needs. Another volume might include a set of essays from that perspective, but directed at the same American audience to enlarge its framework when dealing with these challenges, which we all share.