Hacking & Moral Imperative

Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times has a powerful first-person perspective of his experience having his email hacked in China. Jacobs is a reporter for the Times in Beijing and has done some of the most important coverage of the Chinese government, uprisings in Tibet, protests during the Beijing Olympics, and other areas of concern.

Yesterday I had a conversation with Glenn Greenwald on Twitter about the relative outrage about (presumably) the Chinese government hacking into reporters’ email accounts compared to the deafening silence in the American media about the Bush administration instituting a program of warrantless wiretaps and electronic surveillance on Americans. Glenn is certainly right that there is more outrage when the spying is done by Someone Else, who almost certainly is Evil, while anything done by the US government is explained away as exceptional.

Of course the need for outrage and condemnation for surveillance and spying by one government isn’t obviated by the relative outrage surround another’s behavior. We can condemn the United States for warrantless wiretapping under the Bush administration and we can condemn the Chinese government for hacking email accounts of journalists and activists. There is an imperative for anyone who speaks out on the one to speak out on the other. We must be able to consistently condemn overreaching government surveillance, especially when it is done outside the law. I feel quite comfortable to condemn the Chinese government, as their actions outrage me and I am someone whose spent years fighting against the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Nonetheless Glenn is right: the volume of shock and outrage surrounding the Chinese government’s actions dwarfs response to the Bush-era programs.

It’s an entirely other thing to think about the fact that the United States is in the same boat as the Chinese government when it comes to spying on its citizenry.

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