Last week came word that Edward Snowden, who walked away with a cache of National Security Agency documents and has been leaking them in dribs and drabs ever since, wants the U.S. to drop spying charges against him so he can come home.
And I'm inclined to agree that that is the right thing to do. It's clear now that these documents, much like the embassy cables released by Wikileaks a couple of years ago, haven't had any detrimental impact on the safety and security of the U.S. -- unless you count being really embarrassed.
The fact is that Snowden, with his revelations showing the U.S. government spying on every American every day, while also listening in on heads of state, who happen to be allies, and intercepting traffic from every major Internet service, did us a huge favor by revealing the extent of the surveillance state. He should be applauded as a hero and protected as a whistleblower, not prosecuted as a spy.
If he hadn't leaked those documents, we wouldn't be seeing Congress looking into the behavior of the National Security Agency, a fact that hasn't escaped the NSA's chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, who told Congress recently that we need to find a way to stop journalists from reporting on the Snowden leaks.
Right, because if it weren't for that pesky First Amendment, he wouldn't be having these headaches. Alexander, in his zeal to collect every email, listen to every phone call, follow every GPS-enabled smartphone and read every piece of mail we ever share, has forgotten about the U.S. Constitution. It seems it was not only the Fourth Amendment's right to privacy that was getting in his way, it was the First too. Damn. Wonder if we can change those two to make life easier for him and his group of surveillance-state freaks.
But Alexander is right in a way. We have a free press and it allows us to print those documents even if Snowden may have taken them illegally. When I suggested to a friend that Snowden be allowed to return without fear of prosecution, he said that could be a slippery slope. What if more government employees started leaking documents? Wouldn't forgiving him sanction his activities?
In a way it would, but what he did in this particular case was let us see behind the curtain. And when we peeled back the fabric, what we found was absolutely chilling. In this case, what he did was a good thing because we learned what was happening, and we can now have a very important conversation as a nation and a society on what type of country we want to be and what level of surveillance we are willing to tolerate in the name of protecting us from terrorists.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.