Saturday, June 15, 2013

Edward Snowden -- Heroes "Backwards R" Us

Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? His revelations of the extent of US surveillance efforts under the Patriot Act have put him at the center of the world's attention in the latest round of political embarrassments for the Obama administration, but I don't believe they have disclosed the existence of anything new. We've known about the US government's surveillance of domestic telephone and internet traffic overseas since the Bush administration. At least I remember being aware of reading those reports and thinking my emails to my father living in London at the time were probably being picked up on the government's radar every time I mentioned Osama Bin Laden or something I'd read in the news. See, there I go again. Hello NSA computer scanning this. Are you having fun yet?

What's new for me is the way opinion on the issue of government surveillance is completely divided along partisan lines. According to the polls, Democrats who previously railed against government intrusions under Bush are now totally fine with giving up certain undefined privacy rights in exchange for the added security of the government's snooping, whereas Republicans now are seething with libertarian fury in the place of their previous trust in the government's good intentions with their innermost secrets. Yes, Virginia, there is a functioning democracy.

The point is we have gotten used to the feeling of being invaded in the sanctity of our home spaces via Facebook and Google and have seen that instead of trench-coated watchdogs knocking at our doors, you get strange ads for tree pest removers and yoga classes when you're online. Sharing our information has become part of the trade-off of living in the age of the Internet, and we somehow sense that the government is no more powerful than the nerds that run things nowadays, and are probably less likely to bother us. Seeing Edward Snowden come in from the cold only confirms this sense that the government are us. Here's this guy from Maryland who didn't even graduate high school living in Hawaii with his girlfriend and suddenly feeling guilty about his job working for the biggest eavesdropping operation in the history of the world. But really, Edward, come on. You were working for the NSA. What did he expect, they were doing market research for toothpaste manufacturers?

I think if Obama were smart he would let this go away. We already have a genuine whistleblower hero on our hands in the person of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who decided to answer to a higher morality and betray systematic massacres of innocent civilians in the immoral war we waged in Iraq and now faces a possible death sentence from a military tribunal for his genuinely sacrificial actions.
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