Trusting the NSA

Part of a collection of essays on TRUST by @futurepaul

In an impassioned piece that almost reads like satire in hindsight, Bruce Schneier in 2013 detailed a roadmap for “restoring trust” in institutions after Snowden’s revelations about the NSA:

Rebuilding trust is not easy, as anyone who has betrayed or been betrayed by a friend or lover knows, but the path involves transparency, oversight and accountability. Transparency first involves coming clean. Not a little bit at a time, not only when you have to, but complete disclosure about everything. Then it involves continuing disclosure. No more secret rulings by secret courts about secret laws. No more secret programs whose costs and benefits remain hidden.

Oversight involves meaningful constraints on the NSA, the FBI and others. This will be a combination of things: a court system that acts as a third-party advocate for the rule of law rather than a rubber-stamp organization, a legislature that understands what these organizations are doing and regularly debates requests for increased power, and vibrant public-sector watchdog groups that analyze and debate the government’s actions.

Accountability means that those who break the law, lie to Congress or deceive the American people are held accountable. The NSA has gone rogue, and while it’s probably not possible to prosecute people for what they did under the enormous veil of secrecy it currently enjoys, we need to make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated in the future. Accountability also means voting, which means voters need to know what our leaders are doing in our name.

I can’t even imagine a single one of Bruce’s recommendations coming true. But I do think he’s right! If there’s any way at all to “restore trust” in our institutions, this would be the way!

Posted Dec 26, 2022