The actions of Edward Snowden have been a widely controversial topic over the past year. To some, Snowden is a terrible criminal and a traitor; to others, he is a hero and a patriot.
Whichever side one may stand on, the importance of this particular whistleblower is undeniable. Edward Snowden came into the spotlight in June 2013 when he gave journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras permission to reveal his identity as the man who provided them with numerous documents that had been released in May 2013.
He was almost immediately charged with espionage by the U.S. Department of Justice, along with two additional felonies. In August 2013, Snowden was granted one-year asylum in Russia, where he remains today.
English professor Anastasia Pease said, “Besides being caught in the NSA storm, Snowden also finds himself in the midst of the standoff between Putin and the West over Ukraine. That makes his situation even more dangerous. Edward Snowden’s safe return home to the U.S. seems less and less likely.”
The documents Snowden released revealed a number of global surveillance programs. There have been an estimated 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files, 58,000 or more British intelligence files and 1.7 million or more U.S. intelligence files included in the documents.
Snowden came out with additional claims on Friday, May 2, saying that entire populations, not just individuals, now live under constant surveillance. Snowden appeared via video link at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall during a semiannual Munk debate, where he claimed that state surveillance is today’s way of saying mass surveillance.
There are rumors that Snowden will soon release more information, and this debate hinted that Snowden has more information regarding state surveillance.
Snowden recently held a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that some viewed as Russian propaganda. Snowden has insisted that his decision to appear live on Russian television was made with the purpose of questioning Putin and that the questions were designed to hold Putin accountable for his recent actions.
Snowden asked Putin, “Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?”
To which Putin responded, “Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law … We don’t have a mass system of such interception and, according to our law, it cannot exist.”
Snowden later said Putin’s responses “denied the first part of the question and dodged the latter.”
After this press conference aired, NSA former general counsel Stewart Baker released a statement on his blog on the Washington Post, stating, “It sure looks as though Snowden is playing the Kremlin’s game here, serving up a prearranged softball on demand.”
Senior editor of The Economist Edward Lucas had a similar reaction. He said, “This raises all sorts of questions about the real conditions of his stay in Russia and his relationship with the Kremlin.”
Snowden claims that criticism like this was simply a misinterpretation of what he was trying to do. He said he fully expected these misinterpretations and continues to emphasize that he owes no allegiance to Russia.
Snowden said, “I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk.”
Considering the variety of material Edward Snowden has unveiled and his outspoken words regarding government actions and leaders worldwide, Snowden’s actions pose a question we must ask ourselves as American citizens: do we have the right to know what the American government is doing in regards to surveillance?
Or is Snowden a criminal that deserves to be prosecuted? And is the government is taking necessary measures to keep its citizens protected?
The American public has found itself in a great divide regarding the Snowden case. Looking at this case through an ethical standpoint cleared up any uncertainty I had as an American citizen. I can see how people may view Snowden as a traitor: he obviously released a very large amount of information on the American government and sought refuge in Russia, a country that the U.S. has had major tensions with for numerous decades; yet the situation is more complicated than that.
Americans should have the right to the knowledge of what the government monitors when it involves our own privacy. Snowden was looking out for the well-being of the American people.
“Last year, I risked family, life and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even [President] Obama himself conceded ‘will make our nation stronger.’ I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then,” said Snowden.