Twitter CEO Dick Costolo Can't Tell You About NSA Abuses

He did say that his company's policy is to fight what they regard as overly broad requests for information.

Katie Couric's interview with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is an excellent example of how charm and charisma can help a journalist to press a public figure to answer questions he'd rather not face. The exchange they have about NSA spying is of particular interest -- it starts around the 4 minute mark:

Ponder that for a moment.

The CEO of a leading American company isn't legally permitted to say if he's been approached with government requests for information on Americans that he regards as abusive. In fact, he'd be perfectly free to say, "I've never gotten any abusive requests from the government." But if certain kinds of abusive requests occurred he'd be barred from revealing them. He is left to squirm under questioning, because to tell the truth would imperil his freedom.

That kind of legally mandated secrecy is dangerous, and ought to have no place in the American system, which has always flourished in part because power isn't concentrated exclusively in government. Besides the checks and balances built into the Madisonian framework, the press, the business community, churches, and various associations of citizens all have the power to speak out when they believe that the government is abusing its coercive power. But due to the policies the last two administrations have pursued, Twitter has had to dissent in silence.

Here's a followup question the next time someone interviews Costolo: "Does it make you uncomfortable that it's illegal for you to talk about certain information requests that you regard as abusive?"

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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