Over the weekend it was revealed that the whistleblower behind the NSA leaks was a man named Edward Snowden. Snowden is presumably in Hong Kong, although there hasn’t been any confirmation yet, other than the fact that he checked out of a hotel there recently. There has also been chatter about Snowden having a bid for political asylum, though there has been no official confirmation or denial of such asylum at the time of writing, be it from China, Iceland, or Russia, the three nations allegedly weighing the possibility, with only Russia officially “considering” asylum.
That’s all well and good, but what about his homeland, the U.S.? Already, some members of congress are calling for his head, Obama is trying to do damage control, and as stated above, Snowden isn’t even in the country. On the other side, there is already a whitehouse.gov petition to pardon him, even without any charge of wrongdoing so far, and privacy advocates are taking a break from performing the “I Told You So Dance” to show support of the person behind the information.
I don’t want this to be another article entirely about whistleblowers, so I’ll shift to the leaks themselves–I wrote last week about the notion that some things shouldn’t be classified to begin with, but this leak goes beyond that. The PRISM program and the Verizon (and I would assume other major telecoms companies) data mining efforts shouldn’t have even been started, and for revealing them, I thank Snowden very much.
I believe the best part of these leaks is the re-ignition of the discussion of privacy vs. safety: at what point does “anti-terrorism” become too invasive? At some point during the show last week, I asked “what terrorism?” and by that I was questioning how many terrorism plots were, or even could be, foiled by this type of surveillance. I realize that the CIA/FBI/DHS/etc. have to keep some things secret, but I believe that if they want to even propose this type of surveillance, there had better be concrete, publicly available evidence that it works, and even then, there is no reason that the government needs the metadata on every call. Heck, I call in to Counterpoint from over 1500 miles away for an hour once a week, and I’m sure that could be construed as “odd,” even though I can say with 100% certainty that I am not a terrorist.
But what about the one in a million who is a terrorist? Surely we can’t just let him/her continue uninhibited. Do we trust that the government and police can catch most of them? Do we trust each other to be on the lookout for bomb/etc. factories across the country? In all honesty, I don’t know what we can do to stop terrorist attacks from ever happening again, but just because there isn’t an alternative idea at this point in time does not make the surveillance state is a good idea. I can live with the current airport security; it’s a pain, but it’s only a little overzealous. I can get behind the occasional wiretap, but I think a warrant should be required beforehand. I draw the line at the public camera system/Trapwire and Internet monitoring in any form; the first is far too invasive, and the second is too easy for the actual intended targets to circumvent and only harms the bystanders.
We have to accept that there are people out there that want to hurt us, be it from some bastardized form of an otherwise peaceful religion, or from run-of-the-mill psychopathy, and I’ll admit that I don’t know how to stop them 100% of the time, but what I do know is that turning America into an Orwellian state out of fear of terrorism would be “letting the terrorists win,” and I’m sure I’m blowing these programs a little out of proportion, but one of the hallmarks of such a state is total surveillance, which, thanks to Snowden, we know is closer than we thought it was last week.