Why, love him or hate him, you owe Edward Snowden your thanks.
By now you know the story. American contractor Edward Snowden, working for the National Security Agency, absconds from his job with copies of sensitive surveillance data. He had an attack of conscience when he saw the extent of spying performed by the US Government on us, its citizens. He begins releasing data, shocking the press as well as his fellow countrymen, eludes capture and prosecution by the Government, and gains political asylum in Russia. End of story.
Except that it’s not the end of the story. Data continues to be released on a regular basis that implicates the Government in also spying on our supposed world allies, pissing off such staunch US friends as Spain, Germany, and Mexico. Additionally, recent news that NSA employees routinely used their access to spy on family members, friends, and lovers made everyone wonder whether or not the Government had crossed the line. Well, if there was a line I believe it was crossed years ago, perhaps even decades ago. The citizens of the United States of America have had crosshairs painted on their backs by their government for years, but the most infuriating over-reaches have been facilitated wholesale by their own elected officials since 9-11.
Surveillance technology has been improving by quantum leaps since the first telephone wiretaps were challenged in the legal case of Olmstead v. United States in 1928. U.S. spy planes carrying high resolution cameras flew the skies over foreign countries decades ago, and when satellites began carrying similar technologies the game rapidly began advancing. Today’s citizen of the world can safely assume that, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, they’ve been spied upon at least several times during any normal day. The success of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network stripped away America’s naiveté and made many in the population ready to accept a surveillance state if it meant they could “stay safe.” Senators and Representatives began rubber-stamping anything the U.S. security agencies told them was necessary for National Security without questioning what they were told. (This is a safe assumption if you look at the loads of crap that’s been approved since 9/11. Any rational person would’ve looked at some of that stuff and put their foot down. Hard.) Now all of our Internet traffic is inspected as is our telephone calls (cell and land-line). It’s been said the only form of communication that’s currently safe from spying is the good old U.S. Postal Service letter.
Mr. Snowden found out that our government wasn’t acting properly in that they were spying on their own, in direct violation of laws designed to prevent it. Revealing what he knew was, according to law, illegal and carried serious penalties for doing so. The sheeple of the U.S. had been lulled into silence by what the news outlets, fed their information by the government, were telling them. He thought they ought to know and so he told them. He felt the good that would come of his actions was so great that it was worth his personal sacrifice. He walked away from his well-paying job, hot girlfriend, and family after leaking the story and chose the life of an isolated ex-pat.
I’m not going to debate whether or not the man is a traitor. I’ve talked with so many people who are nearly physically torn because what he did was morally right but legally wrong and they can’t rectify the two. What I will say is that he deserves the gratitude of the world population because he initiated a badly-needed conversation on the topic of spying. The U.S. Government is not unique—if they spy on other countries (and their own citizens), those other countries are also spying on themselves and us. They traditionally don’t make a lot of noise about the practice. Unless, of course, they’re outed—in which case everybody involved screams foul, tempers flare and people become indignant. When that happens the diplomatic machinery goes into hyperdrive. Apologies will be offered and hesitantly accepted, situations smoothed over, and spying will resume (if it ever stopped at all) until the next leak. The practice of domestic spying will continue because those responsible are not beholden to the laws. When you’re in government these days, you can hide anything by declaring the information or situation as something vital to national security and you have to answer to no one.
Which, ultimately, raises another question. Who really runs the country? You’d think the President does, but he’s often body-checked by the judicial and legislative branches of the government. This was by design…remember “checks and balances” from your Government classes in grade school? However, this country’s founders didn’t envision that the military/security groups would rise to surpass the House and Senate in power. Looking at history over the past sixty years or so, you can see any number of times the country’s citizens were conscripted into the armed services, forced to fight against their personal and religious beliefs, and used as science experiments by their own government. Money was acquired through obfuscation and deceit to build top-secret military facilities (think ‘Area 51’) and fund programs that wouldn’t have gotten a dime had they been properly submitted for approval. It would seem that the military really runs the show and, if that’s true, how does that make us different from many other countries already under military rule?
So, whether or not you like or agree with Edward Snowden, you should thank him. People who are willing to stand up for the rights of their fellow human beings are far too rare these days.