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Every once in a while, a person comes along who exposes corrupt activity in our government. Last June, that person was Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and tech expert who leaked top-secret government documents that exposed what everyone now knows: The NSA is watching, and they are watching hard. Snowden has had his praisers and his opponents, but in the last few weeks he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The question is: Does he deserve it?
What’s the story on Snowden?
Edward Snowden was once your average IT guy. He got hired by the NSA, then by the CIA and then again by the NSA. In 2013, he landed a job in Hawaii, working with an NSA branch dedicated to spying on other countries.
Snowden politically identifies as a libertarian, someone who values civil liberties outlined in the Constitution. After the Obama Administration failed to curb the NSA’s surveillance policies, Snowden took matters into his own hands. He gathered top-secret government documents on thumb-drives, flew to Hong Kong and divulged the information to The Guardian.
What Snowden revealed to the world was shocking: The NSA conceivably had the ability to spy on anyone in the world. They were bugging phones and collecting metadata, or “data about data.” For example, metadata about an email would include the time sent, who sent it and who received it. They were also forcing telecommunications companies like Verizon to give the government their users’ phone records. The NSA also has access to underwater fiber-optic cables that carry Internet data and access to the servers of Google, Facebook, Apple and other large companies.
The government was not happy.
The U.S. government charged Snowden with espionage. Even journalists, who we would expect to support the act of keeping the government in check, have opposed Snowden.
Snowden has remained a political refugee in Russia, after his attempts to seek asylum in Ecuador failed. The fact that he’s been all over the map during his whistleblower escapades has led people to question whether he’s a spy or not. Three weeks ago, the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees suggested that Snowden was working for Russia when he leaked the precious U.S. documents. Saying that Snowden was hired by countries who wanted to gain an advantage on us is a plausible accusation, but it has no basis in fact; the FBI still thinks he acted alone.
Brave citizen or traitor?
The facts so far confirm that Snowden is not a spy. So why did he leak the documents?
As a libertarian, Snowden would have been angry that his government was violating the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment clearly protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“Effects” can include property that isn’t necessarily in your house or on your person, such as telephone and Internet data. The NSA collects data without getting warrants, a policy that started under Bush’s PATRIOT Act policies and that Obama has not stopped. In doing so, the government is clearly violating citizens’ Constitutional privacy rights.
Snowden has said that he doesn’t want to live in a world where “everything that I say, everything that I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of love or friendship is recorded.”
But does he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?
So far, a Brazilian Senator, a Swedish professor and two Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Snowden for the prize. See how the nominees get chosen here. Snowden has supporters, but just last Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. spoke to Congress about the supposed threat to national security that Snowden unleashed by leaking our information. He raised concerns about possible cyber-attacks from other countries but was unable to give any examples of harm that the leaks have actually caused.
It is understandable that the government wants to scare people into opposing Snowden, but it’s going to have to do a better job than that. The fact is that the government has violated the Constitution, and it’ll do whatever it can to change the subject and distract people from what really matters.
If we really want transparency and freedom, the right thing to do is to support Snowden. He’s done what a good whistleblower does: expose the corruption in our government. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize is, admittedly, a long shot (there are usually around 200 nominees) but the least he deserves is support from his fellow citizens. Remember that some day these leaks could be the only thing keeping your Internet choices from getting into the wrong hands.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellis Arnold at Ellis.firstname.lastname@example.org.