Leaking information is also very dangerous. The Obama Administration has embarked on a war on whistle-blowers, pursuing them -- both legally and through intimidation -- further than any previous administration has done. Mark Klein, Thomas Drake, and William Binney have all been persecuted for exposing technical details of our surveillance state. Bradley Manning has been treated cruelly and inhumanly -- and possibly tortured -- for his more-indiscriminate leaking of State Department secrets.
The Obama Administration's actions against the Associated Press, its persecution of Julian Assange, and its unprecedented prosecution of Manning on charges of "aiding the enemy" demonstrate how far it's willing to go to intimidate whistle-blowers -- as well as the journalists who talk to them.
But whistle-blowing is vital, even more broadly than in government spying. It's necessary for good government, and to protect us from abuse of power.
We need details on the full extent of the FBI's spying capabilities. We don't know what information it routinely collects on American citizens, what extra information it collects on those on various watch lists, and what legal justifications it invokes for its actions. We don't know its plans for future data collection. We don't know what scandals and illegal actions -- either past or present -- are currently being covered up.
We also need information about what data the NSA gathers, either domestically or internationally. We don't know how much it collects surreptitiously, and how much it relies on arrangements with various companies. We don't know how much it uses password cracking to get at encrypted data, and how much it exploits existing system vulnerabilities. We don't know whether it deliberately inserts backdoors into systems it wants to monitor, either with or without the permission of the communications-system vendors.
And we need details about the sorts of analysis the organizations perform. We don't know what they quickly cull at the point of collection, and what they store for later analysis -- and how long they store it. We don't know what sort of database profiling they do, how extensive their CCTV and surveillance-drone analysis is, how much they perform behavioral analysis, or how extensively they trace friends of people on their watch lists.
We don't know how big the U.S. surveillance apparatus is today, either in terms of money and people or in terms of how many people are monitored or how much data is collected. Modern technology makes it possible to monitor vastly more people -- yesterday's NSA revelations demonstrate that they could easily surveil everyone -- than could ever be done manually.
Whistle-blowing is the moral response to immoral activity by those in power. What's important here are government programs and methods, not data about individuals. I understand I am asking for people to engage in illegal and dangerous behavior. Do it carefully and do it safely, but -- and I am talking directly to you, person working on one of these secret and probably illegal programs -- do it.
If you see something, say something. There are many people in the U.S. that will appreciate and admire you.
For the rest of us, we can help by protesting this war on whistle-blowers. We need to force our politicians not to punish them -- to investigate the abuses and not the messengers -- and to ensure that those unjustly persecuted can obtain redress.
Our government is putting its own self-interest ahead of the interests of the country. That needs to change.