The recent revelation that the National Security Agency collects the personal data of United States citizens, allies and enemies alike has broken the traditional model governing the bond between science and society.
Most breakthrough technologies have dual uses. Think of atomic energy and the nuclear bomb or genetic engineering and biological weapons. This tension never gives way. Our only hope to overcoming it is to stop all research.
But that is unrealistic. Instead, the model we scientists follow is simple: We need to be transparent about the potential use and misuse of our trade. We publish our results, making them accessible to everyone. And when we do see the potential for abuse, we speak up, urging society to reach a consensus on how to keep the good but outlaw the bad.
As the NSA secretly developed its unparalleled surveillance program, relying on a mixture of tools rooted in computer and social sciences, this model failed. Scientists whose work fueled these advances failed to forcefully articulate the collateral dangers their tools pose. And a political leadership, intoxicated by the power of these tools, failed to keep their use within the strict limits of the Constitution.