Government's Redaction Fail Causes Exceptionally Grave Damage To Nation's Security
from the excellent-work,-except-for-that-one-thing dept
As we are all painfully aware, discussing even the most minute detail of the NSA’s data harvesting programs will cause “exceptionally grave damage to national security.” This is why the average citizen receives nothing but an overly-long mock apology from the agency instead of the documents they’ve requested — even when requesting their own data from the NSA.
Tech companies that have been forced to comply with the NSA’s requests are given the same strangulated song-and-dance. These companies feel their customers would be better served if they were informed how much of their data is going to the NSA and how often. But even discussing the collection efforts using aggregate data is considered to a threat to national security.
Fortunately for us, the government is imperfect. A recently released document posted by the Southern New York District Court is the model of redaction, blanking out every mention of the company’s name (along with some entire paragraphs). Perfect… except for one sentence on page 8 of the filing.
On June 6, 2013, the public’s already healthy interest in Google’s receipt of, and response to, national security legal process skyrocketed.
I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it appears our future will be filled with explosive devices, hijacked planes and compromised infrastructure, all thanks to this screwup. The “alerted” terrorists will be quickly shifting from Gmail and GPlus to lesser-known services like Hotlook (or whatever Microsoft’s email service is called now) and Friendster. If you don’t believe me, just ask the people entrusted with securing this nation of ours.
In a June 5 letter to the court, the government argues that divulging the company’s name “would alert current and potential adversaries and targets,” possibly leading them to “change tactics and stop using the provider’s services altogether.”
That’s only one small part of the problem. The other problem with allowing an almost-unnamed tech company to discuss its dealings with surveillance agencies is the age-old “no exceptions” policy, one usually deployed at refund desks: “If I make an exception for you, then everyone is going to want the same thing.”
The government also argues that, if the court were to allow the company to acknowledge receipt of the national security letters, it would set a bad precedent and lead to many other companies being allowed to discuss NSLs.
The government is Wal-Mart, unsurprisingly.
Despite the fact that the company referred to is clearly “Google,” no one at Google is allowed to discuss this document or anything else along these lines, something Google’s legal teams points out is absurd in this very filing.
Since June 6, nearly every major Western publication has run stories (most of them inaccurate) regarding [a certain search giant’s] receipt of and compliance with national security process. Whereas the government’s request to redact [online behemoth’s] identity may have made sense on June 5, maintaining the redaction now serves only to protect a secret that everyone already knows.
Not only is the company formerly known as [redacted] not discussing this inadvertent bit of transparency, but neither is the FBI or the court where it was filed. Only the firm’s lawyer of record has broken the silence, and that only to “neither confirm nor deny” the veracity of the document.
If we’ve learned nothing else from this experience, it’s that the world is a slightly less safer place than it was last Friday before this document was made public — especially for whoever handled the redaction process.