Much has already been written and said about the scandal that ended the career of David Petraeus. The infidelity is by far the least interesting aspect of the story. Far more interesting is how the story intersects with the 4th Amendment and the government’s ability to access our private communications. Glenn Greenwald is, predictably, all over that part of the story:
So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell’s physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime – at most, they had a case of “cyber-harassment” more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people – and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court…
So not only did the FBI – again, all without any real evidence of a crime – trace the locations and identity of Broadwell and Petreaus, and read through Broadwell’s emails (and possibly Petraeus’), but they also got their hands on and read through 20,000-30,000 pages of emails between Gen. Allen and Kelley.
This is a surveillance state run amok. It also highlights how any remnants of internet anonymity have been all but obliterated by the union between the state and technology companies.
But, as unwarranted and invasive as this all is, there is some sweet justice in having the stars of America’s national security state destroyed by the very surveillance system which they implemented and over which they preside. As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this morning: “Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just wait until it got so big that it ate itself?”
Or as the brilliant David Feldman put it on Facebook:
The FBI is our scouring the CIA chief’s emails right now. Color me Old School but I think the guy tapping my phone is entitled to privacy.
And as AP reports, the FBI didn’t even need to get a warrant to access most of the emails of everyone involved:
Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, federal authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor — not a judge — to obtain electronic messages that are six months old or older. To get more recent communications, a warrant from a judge is required. This is a higher standard that requires proof of probable cause that a crime is being committed.
And as Greenwald notes, all this happened only because one person received a few rude emails and had a friend at the FBI who was willing to find out who sent them (turns out, it was the woman having an affair with Petraeus — and the woman doing the complaining was apparently having an affair with another four-star general).