Fans of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 can't help but hear an echo of the novel’s plot in the real-life drama playing out over the leak of information about massive U.S. government spying programs.
The admitted whistle-blower, former National Security Agency contract worker Edward Snowden, apparently exposed the NSA's telephone and Internet data-gathering in an attempt to trigger a public debate about the extent to which our privacy has been compromised in the name of national security.
That debate now seems likely to play out in the federal courts. But before Snowden’s revelations, civil libertarians had been turned away because they couldn't prove to the courts' satisfaction that anyone’s communications had been targeted illegally. Why? Because the government won't say whose phone or e-mail messages have been tapped.
The legal impossibility of a challenge to NSA snooping was a classic catch-22 – the term Heller coined to describe a problem whose very nature precludes a solution. But with Snowden's disclosures of specific phone carriers who were ensnared in the NSA’s net, the American Civil Liberties Union and its allies – now suing again – are in a better position to make their case.