Even before starting this debate, let’s make one thing clear – constitutional democracy accepts that “those who rule” may not continue to reflect “the will of the people” once in seats of power, and may require to be removed periodically through elections. Thus, “U.S.A.” and “those who rule U.S.” may have distinctly different objectives and interests.
Edward Snowden is a 29-year old spy who had been working for the NSA, the world’s biggest spying agency, before he leaked super-secret information to the world. He was a private contractor, and this incident of leaking government secrets to the world has reignited questions about employing private contractors in sensitive positions.
What information did he leak?
In Snowden’s own words as reported in his interview with The Guardian, “That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America … We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.”
What is the relation of this surveillance to humanity in general?
As Snowden tells Guardian, “We hack everyone everywhere … we are in almost every country in the world. We are not at war with these countries.”
But why did he want to make the public aware of secret government surveillance programs?
In his words, “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
He may not have to suffer that for too long anyway, and he knows it. As the Guardian pointed out, Washington-based foreign affairs analyst Steve Clemons tweeted on 8th June, “In Dulles UAL lounge listening to 4 US intel officials saying loudly leaker & reporter on NSA stuff should be disappeared … recorded a bit.”
Was he aware of the risks he was taking?
As he told Guardian he was aware of the risk of prison: “You can’t come up against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept the risk. If they want to get you, over time they will.”
Was he concerned at all about national security?
As he told Glenn Greenwald of Guardian on the question, “We managed to survive greater threats in our history … than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue state without resorting to these sort of programs … It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose … omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance … That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”
What do the pundits say?
Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of ACLU says on The New York Times Opinion Pages, “On Friday, in an effort to quell a swelling tide of criticism, President Obama observed that these surveillance activities had been blessed by all three branches of government. That observation is alarming, not reassuring.”
And later down the post he specifically cites reports of government’s abuse of mined data observing, “The chilling effect of surveillance makes our public debates narrower and more inhibited and our democracy less vital. This is the greater threat presented by the kinds of programs that were exposed…”
Jameel mentions that ‘Privacy’ “means being able to decide for ourselves whom our information is shared with, and when, and under what conditions.”
With that in mind, it is needless “to say, the right of privacy shouldn’t trump everything. National security (and other government interests) may justify some narrow intrusions on privacy in some circumstances. The problem with the programs disclosed over last week is that they are so astonishingly broad,” says Jameel.
As Snowden tells Guardian, “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting…”
Currently, Snowden has fled to Hong Kong and expecting to find asylum in a sympathetic country. He gave up his family, his job and chose a lifetime of insecurity.
Did he do the right thing? He knew he was breaking the law, but as some on the internet have pointed out, those who rose up against slavery were also breaking the law, and going against any regime – whether Nazi, Communist, or Capitalist would mean breaking the law and opposing representatives of the people.
Time would tell its own story, but some like Rep. Mike Rogers think the unauthorized disclosures would help America’s enemies. Rogers said, “If you tell our adversaries and enemies in the counter-terrorism fight exactly how we conduct business, they are not going to do business the same ever again.”
But there are people like Sen. Mark Udall, who criticize the surveillance. Udall said, “It’s the scale of this [that] really concerns me and the fact that the American public doesn’t know about it … the fact that every call I make to my friends, to my family, is noted … where I am, the length of it, the date, that concerns me.”
And Udall says, the broad surveillance of the people done over years hasn’t led to the detection or disruption of any terrorism plots.
From Boston to Ben Ghazi.
But the world is sitting up.
The foreign secretary of U.K. went on television on Sunday reassuring citizens that London’s spies weren’t as bad, and they hadn’t obtained information on their own citizens from Washington.
In Germany, with millions of erstwhile East Germans used to the regime of Stasi secret police, and with the history of the Nazi era, the political opposition asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to ensure Germans are protected from U.S. spying.
In Australia, the knowledge has made it more or less sure that an internet data law is never going to be passed – at least not in the near future.
In New Zealand people are asking questions and internet file sharing tycoon Kim Dotcom tweeted “The New Zealand GCSB spy agency was used to spy on my family because all surveillance was available to American agencies in real time…”
And the timing is decidedly awful (fortutious?) with U.S.-China diplomatic meetings at hand and Obama scheduled to visit Europe soon.
What a mess. (for humanity? for U.S.? or for those who rule U.S.?)