I’ve been reading about Edward Snowden since the story broke, wondering how I should respond. As of today, Russia has granted him a year’s asylum. The truth is that I’m not terribly concerned about the right to privacy and how it is violated by electronic surveillance programs, but I can certainly see how some might be. I’ve spent the past five years of my writing career arguing that individualism is running our society off the rails, so it’s hard for me to get all geared up to fight for individual rights. If you want to hear that argument you can find it here.
However, massive data mining with no oversight seems like a recipe for disaster. And this NSA software program XKeyscore gives me the shivers. Here’s an article on it from the Guardian. It says,
“A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet…’I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email’.”
My opinion is swinging toward thinking it’s a bad thing for any government agency to be able to gather that kind of data with virtually no oversight. But, I’m not naive. The cats out of the bag, and nobody can stop this now. Opponents could pass a constitutional amendment outlawing every one of these practices, and have it ratified by all fifty states and they couldn’t stop it. The U.S. spy agencies would just take it farther underground. And, let me just so to whatever NSA staffer is reading this blog post, (since I’ve tripped just about every key word except jihad and overthrow the government… doh!), I pay all of my taxes, and I’m not the only person with access to my computer…
The fact that there is no way to stop electronic surveillance makes Snowden an extremely important figure in my view. The way I see it, he didn’t put anyone’s life in danger. In that regard this is very different from the wikileaks scandal. He’s shining a spotlight on a pretty serious issue that nobody was talking about before. He’s saying that there should be a national debate about this. Even if we can put the toothpaste back the tube, we should at least know about what is going on in our society.
I think the government should back off, agree not to prosecute him, and let him speak his peace. They should talk with him about what he might know that actually could endanger actual people in the field and get him to keep that under wraps, but otherwise, I think the man should be able to tell people what he knows. The government can take it. Let him tell his story, do his interviews, write his book and have his 15 minutes. It will only make us better as a society. It’s unlikely much will change as a results of Snowden’s actions, but bringing the truth to light is a real moral virtue in any society that purports to be a republic.
Or does he know a lot more? Are government agents afraid that Snowden has a couple of aces up his sleeve? Is there something even more sinister or insidious happening? If so, I guarantee that he has planted the information in another place. All I know is that if Snowden mysteriously dies of food poisoning in a month, I won’t know whether to blame Russia or the United States. I haven’t felt that way since 1981.
What do you think?