Edward Snowden, the man responsible for leaking evidence of the United States government’s secretive surveillance programs to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras just over a year ago, warns the nation that if citizens don’t act now, Americans may not be able to regain privacy. “If we don’t act to establish international standards that are widely enforced by strong technology – by technical standards – we may not be able to get privacy back,” Snowden told Brian Williams of NBC News during an interview aired on May 28.
In June of 2013, Edward Snowden was charged with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and stealing classified documents. He fled the country and has his passport revoked while en route to Cuba. Snowden has received criticism for taking refuge in Russia, the country that granted him asylum in August of last year. U.S. Army retired Colonel and decade-long NBC military analyst, Ken Allard writing for Breitbart, referred to Snowden as “Comrade Edward” and suggested that Snowden’s “KGB handlers were nowhere in sight” during the interview held in Moscow.
In an interview on The Today Show the morning after the NBC interview with Snowden aired, Secretary of State John Kerry said the government would be delighted to have Snowden return home to stand trial. “A patriot would stand up and make his case before the American people,” Kerry said.
Snowden addressed returning home for trial in his interview with Williams. “The Espionage Act provides anyone accused of it no chance to make a public defense,” Snowden explained. “You can’t argue to the jury that what you did was in the public interest,” he said. “You’re not even allowed to make that case. They can’t hear it,” Snowden said.
The semantic discrimination between freedom and security underlie the issue surrounding Edward Snowden. The position of the United States government is that Snowden’s revelations have compromised America’s national security, putting the military at risk and weakening the nation’s ability to defend against corporate espionage from foreign enemies. According to the former CIA operative, however, the American public has a right to know that its government is violating the freedoms afforded to it by the Bill of Rights.
The Fourth Amendment checks the government from seizing and searching private documents of citizens without due cause. Revelations by Snowden show that without justification, the NSA had been collecting the private documents, communications, transactions, associations, purchases, and even reading lists of private citizens and of America’s foreign allies. “If we’re willing to allow the seizure of everyone’s private records without any suspicion or grounds for doing so, what are we – technically – what are we fighting for?” Snowden asked.
“If we want to be free, we can’t become subject to surveillance. We can’t give away our privacy,” Snowden told Williams. “We can’t give away our rights,” he said.
Snowden cautioned the public against being too harsh on the NSA. He characterized his fellow, former colleagues as being good people doing hard work. Instead he laid blame at senior NSA officials who were “investing themselves with powers that they are not entitled to,” without getting any kind of consent from the body of representation in Congress and without having any accountability.
Democracy requires the citizenry to be able to trust its government. Opponents to the NSA spying program uncovered evidence that the NSA was destroying evidence of its spying programs. On May 30, 2014, The Electronic Frontier Foundation accused the United States government in federal court of destroying evidence of NSA spying.
Revelations of NSA spying and resulting digital privacy issues have reverberated around the world. Earlier this month, the EU Court ruled that Google must give individuals the right to have web content removed. This week Google announced the online mechanism for application for content removal. This has sparked debates over privacy issues and censorship. Tomorrow, June 2 the EU is holding a conference in Athens on Citizenship and Digital Freedom, the theme of which is privacy and propaganda.
Meanwhile America’s allies are furious. German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for example, likened the NSA to the East German Stasi after revelations that America’s security agency had listened in on her private cell phone. Her visit to the White House earlier this May was characterized as “frosty.”
Snowden characterized the government’s PRISM surveillance system as pervasive and pre-criminal. He went on to suggest that the government can watch what private citizens are doing just for the sake of seeing what they are up to – “to see what you’re thinking even behind closed doors,” he told Williams. Whatever criminal and political fallout lands on Edward Snowden, the disclosures the former security agency operative made have created public awareness of the risks of life in a digital world. Snowden’s warning for the public to demand reform now before privacy rights have been sacrificed without hope of recovery should sober us all.