Edward Snowden: The Batman of our Time

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Edward Snowden made public headlines back in May 2013 by disclosing classified information acquired by the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program.  This outbreak resulted in two opposite reactions by many angered Americans who either felt betrayed by Snowden or appreciative of his actions.  Snowden stated that he did not want to live in a world that allowed the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world through global surveillance. The U.S. government however had a completely different outlook than Snowden, indicting Snowden as a federal criminal and that should be charged with theft of government property.  Breaching the Espionage Act, Snowden is officially deemed a traitor to the country. However, I will argue an opposing view: Snowden is a hero, as his intention was to provide an overall good for American citizens.

Despite Snowden’s disclosure of top NSA secrets, it seems as if the NSA is under fire once again, this time by international nations claiming that the NSA is illegally spying on their countries, which infringes upon peoples’ basic right to privacy. Public opinion of the NSA is quickly changing as stories such as Snowden’s are now being seen as patriotic. Seizing this as a kairotic opportunity, Edward Snowden recently released a “manifesto” and appealed for clemency to the U.S. government in hopes of charges being dropped against him. With no luck, Snowden will be tried as a criminal for jeopardizing national security. The question remains, whether Edward Snowden is correct in his decision to release classified information publically is still an underlining issue.

On one side of the issue, Snowden’s actions have provided a great deal of good towards privacy rights. Supporters such as Rand Paul as well as an increasing number of public figures are calling for Snowden to be offered asylum in Germany. On the other hand, Snowden is seen as a traitor: the release of classified information has helped three al-Qaida linked groups to change the way they communicate in order to evade U.S. intercepts, resulting in putting U.S. troop’s lives at risk in Afghanistan. This dichotomy is open to moral analysis.

Moral analysis can be seen as a conflict between “right or wrong” action. A more fine-grained approach is to think about the “blameworthiness or praiseworthiness” of the action. Suppose a man is caught stealing food from a store. His action is almost unanimously characterized as “blame-worthy,” since stealing harms societal well-being. However, suppose in this analogy, we say that the man is living in poverty and steals food in order to provide for his starving family. Here, some might consider his actions “praise-worthy,” while others may consider his act of stealing to be neither, since the man must do harm in order to do good. It seems the ends justify the means, as we no longer care what this man did, but what he did it for.

Snowden’s case is similar to the latter analogy, that is, he is much like the man who steals with good reason. It is undeniable that Snowden is indeed a criminal since stealing classified information and releasing it publically without any authorized permission is illegal and against the law. This myopic view detracts from the bigger picture, which is to determine whether his actions provide a greater good, all things considered. In the following sections, I argue that he does.

In an open letter “A Manifesto for Truth”, Edward Snowden defends his case as a hero. He says, “Those who speak the truth are not committing a crime” and “Instead of causing damage, the usefulness of the new public knowledge for society is now clear because reforms to politics, supervision and laws are being suggested.” Probably the biggest eye opener in his letter was that “Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public,” and that “We have a moral duty to ensure that our laws and values limit surveillance programs and protect human rights.”  He then extends this statement by saying that the “U.S. and British intelligence are the worst offenders but this problem extends globally and needs a global solution.” Snowden shows calculated rationale in his beliefs. His argument makes public what is already being considered undesired by so many Americans. Interestingly, Americans themselves cannot decide whether Snowden is a traitor or a hero, even though a majority sixty percent of Americans believe that widespread electronic government surveillance is unacceptable. I contend that Snowden has allowed us to be players of a game already occurring between global intelligence agencies, where the NSA is the first of many secret organizations being exposed. The public for once can have an effect on politicians and control the secret policies of our nations.

According to opposing views, actions are not without repercussions, as Snowden’s information has greatly hurt our national security. Now, virtually every terrorist organization is attempting to change how they communicate to duck U.S. surveillance. Analysts speculate that Snowden stole a lot more information than has already been released. Snowden has made encrypted digital copies of all his files and sent them around the world. Even if there is a password needed to unlock these files, major countries such as Russia and China will easily break through these password protections. There is a widespread assumption that Russia has already attained access to these files. Russia has claimed that they had no contact with Snowden and his cache of intel, but U.S. intelligence believes otherwise. “There’s this guy walking around with as many as four computers and thumb drives full of classified information and the Russian intelligence services haven’t gotten ahold of it? Whatever was on those devices has been copied.”

Though it is without doubt that Snowden has caused damage beyond repair to the United States’ interest, the scrutiny has fallen upon Edward Snowden. The U.S. is just one of the many nations who participate in this global affair of surveillance. Thanks to Snowden, other nations besides the U.S. are being exposed of their controversial clandestine agenda. To great effect, people now weigh in on their idea of their governments and can help provide checks on practices that go beyond constitutional rights. Though some may not see Snowden as a hero in this current situation, I believe the ends of public dialogue and transparency justify the means.

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