The fallout from the Edward Snowden revelations continues to snowball. With each disclosure, allies, businesses and influential authors call for reform. There is ever growing pressure on the Obama administration to respond and quell these concerns before permanent damage is done.
As the crisis grows, many in Congress and the executive branch now focus on explaining why these programs are critical to countering terrorist threats and securing the country. President Barack Obama’s meeting with technology leaders Tuesday marks an early signal of willingness to engage in open dialogue. But until Washington fully addresses the concerns of these various groups through tangible government reform, the fallout will likely worsen.
Trust has been the principal casualty in this unfortunate affair. The American public, our nation’s allies, leading businesses and Internet users around the world are losing faith in the U.S. government’s role as the leading proponent of a free, open and integrated global Internet.
In discussing how the nation’s privacy and civil rights are being safeguarded, the administration and Congress inadvertently dismiss surveillance concerns. Government officials maintain its programs are legal, critical for national security, effective and managed with strict oversight — and thus should continue.
Yet legality does not confer legitimacy. The current approach to surveillance is widely viewed with skepticism and may even be unconstitutional. While no government will be able to persuade all foreigners that its spying efforts are in the service of good, there are steps Washington can and should take to limit the continuing damage from the Snowden fallout.