Just days after the Guardian published news of the NSA’s massive surveillance programs, Edward Snowden, the source of this classified information, has come forward. Already, politicians and pundits alike are calling for his head, outraged that Snowden has compromised national security. But we must ask ourselves: WHOSE security has been jeopardized? And it’s probably not yours or mine.
Snowden was employed as a contractor for the NSA for four years, during which time he saw the government’s spying practices against its own citizens up close. “I think the public is owed an explanation,” Snowden said in a video. Though Snowden admits he is troubled by what he saw, he ultimately wants the practices to be judged by U.S. citizens. “These things needs to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government,” he said.
In what way, as Snowden’s critics allege, has the national security been compromised? The leak does not detail the information obtained or the methods involved. Is it news that we’re spying on terrorist suspects abroad? The United States has gathered up perceived “threats” and put them in Guantanamo Bay and targeted others with drone strikes. The only thing more troubling than actually doing these things would be to do all of these things WITHOUT first collecting intelligence by tapping emails and phone calls. There is no country in the world that has suddenly become aware of America’s international spy programs as a result of Snowden’s NSA leak.
No, the shocking news in this case is how the NSA tracks Americans. Rather than targeting perceived threats, apparently electronic data is being tracked and stored en masse. Vague suspicions seem to be enough to have your privacy rights ignored. Currently, the Department of Justice is trying to keep a confidential court ruling that the United States has been employing unconstitutional domestic surveillance practices from surfacing. Another leak reveals that the NSA even advocated that the government “rethink” the 4th Amendment. After all it would be much easier to keep tabs on everyone without those silly constitutionally-protected privacy restrictions.
President Barack Obama and members of Congress insist that the program is justified and isn’t really much of a secret. Then how come the citizens have never heard about it? If we’re involved in some inherent pact where we authorize the government to keep tabs on everything we do, shouldn’t we – at the very least – have been aware that this is an ongoing policy?
It’s not our personal security that is threatened by knowing we’re being heavily monitored – it’s the establishment’s security. No matter how many people in the government insist that the NSA spying is for our own good, there are plenty of Americans who are outraged by this covert attack on privacy. This knowledge is something that finally pushes citizens to act out against its government for going too far. After all, why trust a system that – in collecting conversations and communications of everyone – clearly does not trust you?
Vocal citizens are something Snowden hopes for. “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change,” Snowden said in a video interview. “People will see the media – all these disclosures – they’ll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.”
Most likely, Snowden will be severely punished for exposing the powers that be. Earlier this year, I wrote an article titled “When Did Whistleblowers Become the Bad Guys?” which outlined how the Obama administration has cracked down on whistleblowers more than all previous presidential administrations combined. The current takeaway is that it is not a crime for the United States to do wrong, but for someone else to demonstrate this fact publicly.
‘National security’ is increasingly becoming less about its citizens’ personal safety, and more about keeping the government’s secrets concealed – especially from its own people. The fact that most of our politicians are quick to label Snowden’s actions “treason” rather than looking more critically at the frightening, Constitution-defying policies of the NSA should be nearly as troubling as the secretive spying itself.