Well, it looks like the government reading our letters isn’t only a historical analogy: in the wake of the NSA leaks, the Times reveals that the government records metadata for all paper mail, too. It should remind us once again that what we think of the quintessentially private form of communication—the sealed letter—in fact travels through many hands and many levels of government bureaucracy before reaching a recipient. This ongoing debate about publicity and privacy in a digital world becomes increasingly complicated, and revealing, when we put it in a long history of communications media and the relationship between the domestic sphere and political exigency.

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