China’s not the only country that reads email

The follow letter was written in response to an editorial published in the January 14 edition of the Washington Post:

Regarding the editorial “Google vs. China” in the January 14 edition of the Washington Post, the efforts of the Chinese government to “snoop on the private emails of its citizens,” while certainly behavior worthy of being denounced, are fundamentally no different than the rights asserted by our own U.S. government to inspect the content of Internet traffic in the name of national security. The operational scope of the Einstein 3 program managed by the Department of Homeland Security is typically characterized to include both the technical ability to allow email and other Internet communications traffic to be read, and the authority to do so under the USA PATRIOT Act when the content of the communications relates to terrorism or to computer fraud and abuse. There is of course a world of difference between what we would consider “related to terrorism” and the electronic speech of human rights activists who were reported among the victims of the attacks on Google’s email service. However, it is not always so easy to draw this distinction, especially when dealing with individuals whose identities exist online. I’ve little doubt that the Chinese might characterize pro-democracy advocates as potential threats to Chinese national security; the fact that they represent such a threat is one reason the United States objects to their censorship. The point is, the Post is not in the best position to be decrying Chinese state-sponsored snooping into email communications of private citizens, unless it wants to paint the U.S. government with the same brush.