A 29-year-old man who was until recently an undercover defense contractor to the CIA and a Booz Allen Hamilton employee, revealed himself as the leak of top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs. Edward Snowden released highly classified information that describes PRISM, the secret data collecting program, and provided details on the major internet companies in cooperation with the extensive surveillance network just three weeks before he fled to Hong Kong, where he is now hiding from U.S. authorities.
Where in most cases, people flee their birth homes to seek asylum in the United States, Snowden finds himself in the most unusual case of seeking asylum from the United States; hopefully, as he cites, in a place like Iceland, where civil liberties records are strong.
In recent years, instances of federally employed citizens defecting secret information to the media haven't been uncommon. The names Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning come to mind, and so do the sad stories of Aaron Schwarz and Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and enthusiastic broadcaster of government's dirty laundry.
Snowden's highly controversial actions against the U.S. government, in addition to his escape, makes his public exposure that much more complicated to the public debate about privacy, but also government overreach.
So, is the United States a place worth running from?
For Snowden, evidently so. He bore witness to the covert, big picture mission of the NSA to collect, track, and retain the highly personal information of millions of unknowing citizens. On a conscious level, Snowden released this information on a moral basis of federal wrong-doing that the public needed to be privy to. If extradited back to the United States, Snowden could face charges that would land him in jail for decades, if not the rest of his life.
Clearly, Snowden violated the terms of his contract and the laws of the land, but does this supersede the inherent overreach the NSA has committed? Is the public okay with a government owned "permanent record" of individual activities over the phone, Facebook, email, Gchat and text message?
For people who spend their lives fighting against government oppression, and especially for those who are weary of Big Brother-style supervision, why are so few charging to the defense of this man in the U.S.?
Snowden is not a spy and has demonstrated no intention to harm his fellow countrymen. Indeed, if he had, the resources were at his disposal with the authority to "wiretap anybody, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email" while also "shutting down the program in one afternoon."
If for a moment Snowden was a defector from Iran, North Korea, or even any media and opposition-averse Latin American country, most of us would sympathize with Snowden's activity to expose the invasive and egregious nature of these programs.
While the United States is certainly not oppressive on par with any of these nations, it does not validate a public complacency about our civil rights. Snowden wasn't crazy to consider this, and the fact that our courts are weaker on protecting our civil liberties than in earlier times.
To reference one of our forefathers, why fight for our liberties at all, just to trade them in again?
What do you think?
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