With advances in technology comes the unsettling feeling that you are being watched in some capacity. But if the average citizen feels like his or her movements are being monitored, it's nothing compared to those with a government security clearance.
In a Sunday review, the New York Times points out that the administration under President Barack Obama has prosecuted more government officials for leaking information to the press than any other administration ... combined. Here's why and how:
Today, advances in surveillance technology allow the government to keep a perpetual eye on those with security clearances, and give prosecutors the ability to punish officials for disclosing secrets without provoking a clash with the press.
The changes have unsettled a decades-long accommodation between national security and press freedom, one in which the government did what it could to protect its secrets but exercised discretion in resorting to subpoenas and criminal charges when it failed.
The New York Times reports that within the current administration, six government employees who have leaked information to the press have been prosecuted. This is attributed to increased availability of evidence, not political issues:
“The Justice Department has always taken seriously cases in which government employees and contractors entrusted with classified information are suspected of willfully disclosing such classified information to those not entitled to it,” a department official explained. “As a general matter, prosecutions of those who leaked classified information to reporters have been rare, due, in part, to the inherent challenges involved in identifying the person responsible for the illegal disclosure and in compiling the evidence necessary to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
This coincidental but increased prevalence of prosecutions and pressure for reporters to reveal sources has government officials who may have considered providing information to the press or even the public, as Steven Aftergood who is an expert of government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists points out, on edge.
The Times reports the Justice Department’s Spokesman during George W. Bush’s administration, Mark Corallo, as saying he was "sort of shocked" at the number of prosecutions being made by the Obama administration.
The Times details several cases where government officials were prosecuted for leaking information to the press. Evidence of disclosure of such information was found from emails obtained by search warrants, telephone records, computer files and more. With increased surveillance technology, the Times reports Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, as providing this advice:
“For God’s sake, get off of e-mail,” she said. “Get off of your cellphone. Watch your credit cards. Watch your plane tickets. These guys in the N.S.A. know everything.”
Gizmodo likens the sort of surveillance allowable by current technology as a form of censorship in itself:
Now that it's possible to keep track of individuals locations and phone conversations and electronic communications with minimal manpower, suspicions and half-baked evidence of leaks have become hard truths. Footage from private surveillance cameras can be subpoenaed in court cases.
By squeezing off the ability of government officials to call foul on their peers, the American government is, in effect, imposing a form of censorship.
Read more about the specific prosecution cases of government officials cited by the New York Times here.