This is your must-read for today, by Jonathan Zittrain. Here’s a portion of his thoughtful essay about the large-scale hacks, data dumps of private communications, and media reporting on same:
But before we consume the fast food meal of messages containing private citizens’ unguarded moments with friends and move on, we should consider the longer term effects on the body politic of partaking too often, and too indiscriminately.
There might be cases in which a hacker’s breach of a private citizen’s email might reveal something so explosive, so terrible, that some might justify the ethics of the breach – or at least not deem the fruits of the breach off-limits from further coverage. But it’s worth noting that the Fourth Amendment’s broad prohibition against warrantless searches means that an unwarranted government hack of someone’s account, revealing terrible wrongdoing, would not only be cause for damages against the government, but exclusion of that evidence in any criminal case brought against the wrongdoer. The “exclusionary rule” was designed precisely for the purpose of vindicating individual rights, drawing a line with few exceptions where the ends cannot justify the means.
Should we feel any differently when a private party – or a country other than the United States – conducts such a search? To bless it is to condone vigilantism, or intrusion by other states into our own citizens’ private affairs. Few would welcome a self-designated house intruder who, in the name of “the right to participate in governing our nation,” breaks into people’s homes, finds their old files, and then publishes them online for others to look through. Whatever that activity is, it’s not whistleblowing. In fact, it’s antithetical to whatever values might be said to be behind legitimate whistleblowing.
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