Mueller, John & Mark G. Stewart, “Secret without Reason and Costly without Accomplishment: Questioning the National Security Agency’s Metadata Program,” I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society (2014)

Download a PDF.


When Edward Snowden’s revelations emerged in June 2013 about the extent to which the National Security Agency was secretly gathering communications data as part of the country’s massive 9/11-induced effort to catch terrorists, the administration of Barack Obama set in motion a program to pursue him to the ends of the earth in order to have him prosecuted to the full extent of the law for illegally exposing state secrets.

However, the President also said that the discussions about the programs these revelations triggered have actually been a good thing: “I welcome this debate. And I think it’s healthy for our democracy. I think it’s a sign of maturity because probably five years ago, six years ago, we might not have been having this debate.”

There may be something a bit patronizing in the implication that the programs have been secret because we weren’t yet mature enough to debate them when they were put into place. Setting that aside, however, a debate is surely to be welcomed—indeed, much overdue. It should be conducted not only about the National Security Agency’s amazingly extensive data-gathering programs to amass information on telephone and e-mail conversations—programs that have, according to the President, included “modest encroachments” on privacy—but also more generally about the phenomenal expansion of intelligence and policing efforts in the wake of 9/11.