Why It’s Important to Redact the Identities of NSA Employees

The website TechDirt posted an article today about the New York Timesepic failure to properly redact a Snowden NSA document yesterday, and the post raised an important angle on the story. Tim Cushing wrote:

Cesca somehow feels the privacy of a single NSA agent trumps the public’s interest in infringements on their own privacy — not just here in the US but all over the world.

This is one of many variations of the same remark: Yeah? So what? Gotta break some eggs to make an omelette, amirite? Just check out some of the comments here. It’s worth noting that not only did Cushing basically shrug off the outing of an NSA agent but he also posted the poorly-redacted PDF file with instructions on how to view the redacted text. Weird since he referred to the New York Times‘ “carelessness” for making the mistake, while simultaneously shrugging off the outing of the NSA employee.

Throughout the last 20 hours or so, I’ve seen variations of the TechDirt remarks, ranging from The NSA employee deserved it for spying on us, to NSA agents aren’t under cover so what’s the big deal?

So I suppose it’s necessary to explain why the redaction error was a massive blunder.

Just in case Cushing and others haven’t noticed there are quite a few angry, ramped-up people around the world — regular people and tech-heavy hackers alike — who hate NSA with the fury of a thousand suns. Many of those people include bad actors and terrorists, not to mention the terrorist cell named inside the document as a target of the operation.

And now they’ve all been handed a gigantic chunk of red meat: the name of an NSA employee who’s directly connected to this operation that’s been tagged as illegal, unconstitutional and all varieties of awful.

What could possibly go wrong?

If the outed employee hasn’t changed her phone number and passwords already, she should probably get on that.

The U.S. government, along with all three publications who posted it, thought it was a good idea to redact several pieces of information in the Snowden document, including the agent’s name. This decision wasn’t made frivolously (the execution by the New York Times notwithstanding). There was a damn good reason for it. No, she doesn’t have to be undercover to be targeted by those who think it’s fair game to retaliate against NSA employees who are connected with these so-called violations of civil liberties and privacy. It’s very easy to imagine an industrious hacker breaking into her cellphone or accounts just to prove a point about NSA surveillance.

If knowing the names of NSA employees involved with specific NSA operations is becoming a must-know detail in the Snowden saga now, things could get very, very bad for a lot of people, including the Snowden supporters who think this is a great idea. It’s not.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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