Good people doing Bad Things

I was going to follow up my previous post with a screed about why I don’t actually believe the people behind the current spying scandal are evil, and why I’m afraid of what they’re doing all the same.  Jennifer Granick beat me to it, and she’s not only far better qualified to write about this stuff, she also had access to the ultimate source:

My Dinner With NSA Director Keith Alexander

 On the likelihood that he means well but is embroiled in a harmful context:

I have no doubt that Gen. Alexander loves this country as much as I do, or that his primary motivation is to protect our nation from terrorist attacks. “Never again,” he said over dinner.  But it may be that our deep differences stem from a fundamental disagreement about human nature.  I think Gen. Alexander believes that history is made by great individuals standing against evil.  I believe that brave people can make a difference, but that larger inexorable forces are often more important: history, economics, political and social systems, the environment. So I believe that power corrupts and that good people will do bad things when a system is poorly designed, no matter how well-intentioned they may be….

And on the reasons to still fear what he’s building, no matter how good the intentions behind it:

And of course, there also will be both “inadvertent” and intentional abuse, inevitable but difficult to discover.  Bored analysts do things like spy on women using surveillance cameras and listen to American GIs overseas having phone sex with their loved ones back home.  Or an FBI agent may investigate strange but not unlawful emails on behalf of a family friend, leading to a sex scandal that brings down the Director of the CIA.  These surveillance tools and information databases may one day end up in the hands of a J. Edgar Hoover and a President demanding embarrassing information about her political opponents, information that, in an age of mass surveillance, the government most assuredly will have somewhere in its treasure trove.

The whole piece is right on point, well written and couldn’t be better sourced.  Go and read it yourself.

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