Senator Rand Paul once again defended American whistle blower Edward Snowden on Sunday, telling ABC that although Snowden broke the law, he also “revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community.” This added to the reignited debate of whether Snowden deserves some leniency if he were to come back to United States.
Since 2010 when Wikileaks made a splash in media with their Baghdad Air Strike video, the public opinion of whistle blowing became, and has remained ever since, one of the most dividing topics. It is no surprise then that when former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden released classified documents showing how NSA monitored all phone calls, mostly within United States, and piled them into giant metadata, he had plenty of defenders and accusers. The media went rather mad over the whole affair, constantly bloating the story to the point that it seemed as though Snowden had revealed the dirtiest and the most illegal of secrets in United States government. It was as if he had revealed that particular FBI or NSA agent sitting quietly at his desk with large headphones, listening to people’s most private conversations, regardless of the subject matter.
The truth, however, is less fun and sinister. This idea that NSA was not using the data that was legally available to them in forms of cell phones or Internet or really any other imaginable device which collects data, is naïve. It is their job to protect citizens by using any legal methods they find to do it.
Legal? Yes, a fact that so many people haven’t seemed to realize about Snowden’s leak is that he hasn’t revealed anything illegal. The current discussion of the leak, for political reasons, might push the issue up the Supreme Court where it might be found unconstitutional, but it doesn’t mean that the NSA did anything illegal at the time. They simply operated within the legal boundaries presented to them and if the court chooses to shrink those boundaries, well then NSA should act accordingly.
The reason why the leak had such a massive exposure was seemed more emotional than anything. It was because of that uncomfortable thought of “What if somebody is listening to me right now?” Unfortunately the whole trumped up notion of privacy being at risk is really just a bit paranoid. Could the security listen to your private conversations? Yes, after they establish a probable cause that an individual is a security threat and have their wiretapping request approved by a judge. Do they listen to just regular “people-talk?” Of course they don’t. Could they even attempt such thing, with 314 million people living in United States? The truth is again, rather simple, that the NSA doesn’t care about private conversations. Unless someone presents a probable risk, the NSA couldn’t care less about what individuals do or discuss in private.
Snowden could have been a hero, because after all, whistle blowing can be a patriotic act. History offers plenty of examples, both in the U.S. and abroad, when the government security does sinister things worth exposing, but Snowden’s classified documents were not one of them. The problem of Snowden and Julian Assange of Wikileaks is that they are treating freedom of information as something sacred, something pure, an ideal. While freedom of information is good, it should not be at all costs.
The world of today is full of digital data. If it’s legal, security will use that data. Is that really a controversial idea? The leak which exposed NSA’s inner workings in such an embarrassing way did little else besides make headlines. It did not reveal the tyrannical government apparatus which many people like to imagine. The whole thing was really rather dull. When Senator Paul called the NSA’s programs “great abuses of our government,” what is he referring to besides the hypothetical damage that it does in his intellectual libertarian utopia. But where are the actual illegal acts? Where is the actual damage?
By Ildar Sverigin