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The Prism

Jill Lepore, New Yorker

Questions raised this month about surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency have been met, so far, with much the same response that Duncombe got from Graham in 1844: the program is classified. (This, a secret secret, is known as a double secret.) Luckily, old secrets aren’t secret; old secrets are history. The Mazzini affair, as the historian David Vincent argued in “The Culture of Secrecy,” led to “the first modern attack on official secrecy.”

In the wake of the recently unveiled NSA scandal, Jill Lepore contrasts our current situation with 1844, when the British government was accused of opening people’s mail.