Monday, February 13, 2012

Speculation on whistle-blowers

The Sunday New York Times carried this interesting opinion piece: A High-Tech War on Leaks.

Much of the discussion recently has been on how modern technology has enabled leaks, as in wikileaks, etc.

But this article focuses on how modern technology is having the opposite effect, by enabling governments to deter and punish leaks:

It used to be that journalists had a sporting chance of protecting their sources. The best and sometimes only way to identify a leaker was to pressure the reporter or news organization that received the leak, but even subpoenas tended to be resisted. Today, advances in surveillance technology allow the government to keep a perpetual eye on those with security clearances, and give prosecutors the ability to punish officials for disclosing secrets without provoking a clash with the press.

The author of the essay wonders whether the outcome of this will be a return to older, more personal methods of reporting:

The solution for reporters, Ms. Dalglish said, is to adopt Mr. Woodward’s methods from the 1970s. “For God’s sake, get off of e-mail,” she said. “Get off of your cellphone. Watch your credit cards. Watch your plane tickets. These guys in the N.S.A. know everything.”

Mr. Corallo, the former Justice Department spokesman, provided corresponding advice to government officials. “Don’t be stupid and use e-mail,” he said. “You have to meet a reporter face to face, hand him an envelope and walk away quickly.”

What the article doesn't discuss, in my opinion, is whether there is any value in having all this secrecy in the first place. Remember all the excitement about Transparency, Open Government, and the Sunlight Initiative four years ago? Well, surprise surprise, things didn't seem to come to pass:

"Some agencies have really embraced the new direction and the new policies," said Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy at OMB Watch, singling out the Environmental Protection Agency as an example. Others, such as the intelligence agencies, seem to be continuing with "business as usual," Moulton said.
Well, fancy that.

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