Now that Edward Snowden has come forward as the source of the NSA leaks, much of the attention in Washington and the media will be turned to him, his history, and his future. People on both sides will paint him in the light of their choosing. Some will say that he’s a true patriot trying to force the government to reevaluate their stance on domestic security and the privacy of its citizens. Others will say that he’s a traitor, someone who has hurt the government’s ability to keep citizens safe.
Who is right? More importantly, how will Snowden be viewed in the eyes of history?
He is currently in Hong Kong seeking asylum through any country that he says promotes freedom and privacy for its citizens. It will be a hard road for him as the US government will do anything possible to get their hands on him. If the story of his history working undercover for the CIA and having access to sensitive information is authentic, they government will apply every ounce of pressure possible to get him stateside.
That’s the story so far. Now, let’s examine how his actions play out from both sides.
Is he a patriot?
One of the things that has made the United States the power that it has become in the world over the past two centuries is its empowerment of people. The Constitution allows for freedoms that are being challenged in the last decade due to increased threats from abroad and improved technologies. Some would say that the governing principles are outdated, unsuitable for current times.
Others would say that the concepts must apply today and ongoing into the future for the country to remain strong and free. These are the people who will paint Snowden as a patriot. He did what he thought was right to protect the people from the government itself. Tyranny comes in many forms. Today, it’s privacy issues that put nearly every citizen under differing degrees of surveillance by the entity that is charged with protecting them. Tomorrow, it could be much worse, particularly with the exponential increase in technological capabilities.
From this perspective, what Snowden did was in the best interests of his country and the people within it. He was making sure that the government doesn’t overstep its bounds in the name of security. Just like Big Brother in 1984, the US government is on a trajectory course to protect its people in spite of their desires and freedoms. A dog locked in a cage can’t get itself run over by trotting out into the road, but it’s still a dog in a cage.
Is he a traitor?
Some say that if you don’t have anything to hide, you shouldn’t be concerned about the government watching your interactions for the sake of catching bad guys. They would welcome the concept of being watched as long as those who would do them harm are being watched as well. It’s a good argument in many ways.
It’s the type of argument that won’t be used by the government or media when discussing Snowden’s role in the way things are shaping up for the government attempts to maintain watchful security, but those who support their position might use it. For the government, their story will be focused on their stance that the NSA used the data they collected to keep Americans safe. They’ll say that by weakening their efforts to stay ahead of situations, that Snowden’s actions were those of a traitor.
If there is a terrorist attack of any sort in the next couple of years, Snowden’s actions will be brought up. Did he weaken the country by leaking the practices? If so, then he will be painted as a traitor.
Too much gray
It’s not a black and white issue. As with most things that revolve around politics, both sides of the argument will vehemently argue that they are correct. In many ways, they both are. He is a patriot. He is a traitor.
The gray area here is whether or not he did more harm than good. From a principled perspective, he did what he felt was necessary to keep the US government from doing harm to its own people. From the pragmatic perspective, he worked to take a way a tool of national security and therefore put Americans in harm’s way.
The real question is “what do you think?” I have my own beliefs but I’ll reserve them for responses. Here’s the video: