Americans are apparently blasé about government eavesdropping.
In the days after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that Washington spies extensively on its own citizens, polls found that about half of Americans have no problem with such snooping, as long as it protects them from terrorism.
But a scandal unfolding here in South Korea illustrates how such domestic snooping can easily harm a democracy.
The imbroglio — which has sparked student protests and candlelight vigils around Seoul — actually consists of two episodes rolled into one.
The most recent scandal heated up when left-wing lawmakers accused the intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), of trying to protect its turf by leaking a sensitive and secret transcript in late June.
The document revealed details of a 2007 summit between North and South Korean leaders. In it, a now-deceased South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, discussed the possibility of redrawing the rival Koreas' sea border to help build peace.
At the other end of the table was enemy No. 1: former North Korean despot, Kim Jong Il.
The revelation had the potential to skewer Roh's party, now the opposition. For many South Koreans, the episode amounts to treason.
But the motive for the disclosure may have gone deeper.
Lawmakers claim that the spy agency was attempting to distract the public from yet another explosive affair: a clandestine NIS propaganda operation to influence the December 2012 presidential election.
In late 2012, two NIS agents published thousands of online comments in support of Park Geun-hye, the conservative politician who was elected president in December. The young spooks tried to smear the political left, claiming some were North Korean sympathizers and communist instigators.
In the raucous political system of South Korea, it's common for the mainstream press and pundits to paint their opponents in extreme ways.
The propaganda campaign didn't stay secret for long. Last month, the former spy chief, Won Sei-hoon, was indicted on allegations that he personally orchestrated the operation; the former Seoul police chief is also being prosecuted for supposedly whitewashing the first investigation into the case.
The NIS insists that it acted within legal bounds when declassifying the summit transcript. Under South Korean law, the head of the agency can request the release of state secrets if it does not pose a threat to national security.
It released the document out of concern for the "deepening schisms in the public" and its "negative effect national security," according to a statement issued on July 10.
An NIS spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Under South Korean law, documents of this sensitivity held by the National Intelligence Service would typically stay classified for up to 15 years. Two-thirds of lawmakers would have to agree, or a court order issued, before release into the presidential archive.