Slate waxes on the one thing about the entire NSA debate that should still worry us and what we should focus our on attention on:
A debate is certainly worth having on the latest nugget from Snowden’s trove, reported in the June 5 New York Times, about an NSA program—secretly approved by the Justice Department in mid-2012—to monitor Internet servers for the presence of foreign hackers. TheTimes cites the concern of some legal scholars that the NSA may be crossing a line between intelligence and law-enforcement. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many criticized that the line had become too thick—so much so that the CIA, NSA, and FBI couldn’t share intelligence information about the plotters in the lead-up to the attack. Some of the subsequent laws, which are now being reformed or called into question, were answers to those critics: Their sponsors spoke of the need to “break down the walls” and “connect the dots.” Did we go too far in that direction, and are we going too far the other way as part of a backlash?
Ironically, right next to the Times’ front-page scoop about the NSA’s effort to track down hackers was a story reporting that China had hacked the personal data—including Social Security numbers—of 4 million U.S. government employees. A debate has been going on for some time—much of it outside public purview—over the extent to which the government should get involved in fighting hackers. One reason for the debate is that the NSA is the only government agency with the talent, technology, and resources to fend off hackers effectively. But letting the NSA loose on their trail discomfits many who contemplate the idea, because stopping hackers means monitoring the networks they’re hacking, which means accessing the communications of ordinary Americans. How, and where, to draw the line? This is very much a conversation worth having. No one is having it just now.