When journalist Glenn Greenwald broke the now-famous story about the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, which monitors telephone and internet communications, it struck me at the core of my conscience.
Like many other internet users from around the globe, I knew for a long time that there had been reason suspect we were being tracked. We had after all known for a while that social media firms were busy data-mining, as they called it, a poignant linguistic reference to our personal information as valuable mineral resource.
Yet last week’s leak by Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden – who was contracted by the NSA to assist with its program – was nothing less than stunning. To know something is probably true and to know that it is true are two very different things. For me, at least, his confession amounted to a rude awakening from the blissful slumber of denial that I was being watched.
Where we go from here depends on our values.
The government will be making a case against Snowden, no doubt, and he may be the next in a line of whistleblower martyrs – including Julian Assange and Bradley Manning – to be smeared by the powers that be.
Whether or not Snowden did the right thing will be of no concern to the government or its contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, as their grievance is not a moral one, but a practical one: A 29-year-old system administrator stationed in Hawaii, sworn to secrecy for the price of $122,000 a year, spilled the beans.
Therefore, it is up to us to decide whether we value our security over our freedom or, like Snowden,“don’t want to live a society that does these sorts of things.”
In a videotaped conversation with Greenwald, Snowden tells the journalist that, “if living un-freely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept – and I think many of us are, it’s the human nature – you can get up every day, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest and go to sleep at night after watching your shows.”
Is that a life you would be willing to accept?