Edward Snowden and the NSA Leaks
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On June 6th of 2013 The Guardian reported on a classified U.S. surveillance network called PRISM. This information was given to them by former Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden. Snowden obtained this information by secretly gathering files and documents regarding the program and others while working for the government contracted Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. On May 20 2013, Snowden had traveled to Hong Kong to meet with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, journalists for The Guardian, in order to turn over NSA documents revealing various U.S. surveillance programs and tactics that are used on their citizens and on citizens in other countries. Snowden had also given the journalists the right to reveal his identity through an interview they had conducted with him, saying that his sole reason for leaking the documents was “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them” (qtd in Greenwald, Glenn, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras).
Snowden’s identity was revealed four days after the initial leak, and the United States considered the act of transferring classified surveillance information to a foreign source treason, and wished to prosecute Snowden under the espionage act. To avoid prosecution from the United States, Snowden flew to Moscow Russia on June 23 of 2013 after his passport was revoked by the US, seeking asylum. Passport revoked, Russia granted Snowden one year renewable asylum on August 1 to protect him from United States law. Snowden knew he would be risking his life
Views on the constitutionality of the NSA’s bulk data collection are very diverse, and two court rulings on that topic have been split on whether or not the collection is constitutional. President Barack Obama however defended the data collection just a day after PRISM was leaked, saying “the right balance had been struck between security and privacy” (qtd in Gidda). The United wish to carry forth with Snowden’s case regarding the leaked records but are unable to because of his asylum in Russia. Currently Snowden resides at an undisclosed location in Moscow Russia and meets with Russian officials and other world organizations as a guest speaker. The US continues to seek extradition, but until then Snowden is relatively safe in Russia.
Part 2: Comparison of Opinions
On a leak of this scale there is sure to be a multitude of opinions on the issue, which there are. The New Yorker in itself has two articles written by their staff writers posing two completely different viewpoints; Jeffrey Toobin claiming “Edward Snowden is No Hero”, while John Cassidy makes a case for “Why Snowden is a Hero”. In Toobin’s argument against Snowden he cites examples that Snowden has revealed information that has put others’ lives in risk that would have otherwise been protected which immediately in itself warrants prosecution. Along with this Cassidy goes on to talk about the data collection as a necessary evil and that Snowden had no right to disrupt a government run system.
“If he had a problem with how things were run he needed to take it up with someone at Booz Allen before taking it upon himself to release information to the public” (Cassidy) The other end of this opinion falls to Jeffery Toobin who claims that Snowden did this for the benefit of the country and should be praised. Toobin says that in this time in American society it takes someone brave enough to disrupt the current to see something for what it truly is and call them out on it, despite the consequences. Toobin believes that any time a government becomes unjust it is the people of America’s duty to do something about it, and that is what Snowden did.
The issue of Edward Snowden and the NSA is not concentrated to a small area, it is a global debate and a national debate. Two writers, one from The Washington Post, and the other from the Seattle Times hold very different views on this same debate. The Washington Post makes a claim very similar to Cassidy’s argument that Snowden should not be considered a hero, yet the farthest thing from in, for he committed a heinous act of treason against the country in which he lived. Ruth Marcus said in her entry, “Snowden knowingly gave information to a foreign source that put our country at risk, and that is unforgivable”.
At another newspaper in the US, The Seattle Times Mark Weisbrot holds the complete opposite view to Marcus, saying, like Toobin, that Snowden is a hero that should be praised, not slandered. He makes his case on the basis that the data collected by the NSA had “over exceeded the power given to it” and that what the government was doing was “not acceptable.” Weisbrot believes in an individual’s right to say what is wrong with the country, and supports Snowden and whistleblowers for doing so.
This issue also does not have party specific views as majority of the conflicts that arise in the United States do. There are democrats for Snowden as well as against him, the same views are split among republicans. In a speech at the University Of Connecticut Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party talked about how she felt that the information Snowden released was helping terrorist organizations. (Roller)
Part 3: An argument in response
Edward Snowden has gone on record and said that what he intended to do was to help the American public realize a wrong that had been done against them. What he failed to realize ahead of time were the awful consequences that would arise as a result of his actions, and the crime against his country he was committing. Sometimes the government needs to do things behind closed doors without public knowledge for the benefit of the country as a whole. The government knew they would face too much controversy to overcome if they would have announced all they were doing to the public. Snowden as a cause of his treasonous actions has essentially compromised the entire United States data collection effort. Snowden also put hundreds of people in the Middle East living among terrorist organizations lives in jeopardy, and that is something that cannot be forgiven. Snowden should not be killed, but should certainly spend the remainder of his life imprisoned.
The biggest argument against Snowden is that he has essentially compromised the entire US data collection program, angering allies and citizens. The only way this sort of data collection can work is if no one knows about it other than the government. Now the terrorists and criminals that were found using these data collection methods will find alternate communication methods which will make it that much harder for the United States to find them. It was also revealed the US surveillance upon foreign countries and allies, tarnishing the United States’ foreign relations. There is so much more harm than good that came out of Snowden leaking this information that the United States should have no choice other than to punish Snowden. He did not understand that the NSA and the US had no choice other than to conduct this surveillance without the citizens of the United States permitting it, because if it was known by the populace it would not work.
Another reason why Snowden should be prosecuted is just as important as the first. He put American lives in danger. There are spies stationed overseas inside of terrorist camps gathering the necessary information the take them out, and with this leak, their identities are revealed to the leaders of these organizations putting their life’s very much in danger. When questioned about her view on Snowden’s leaks Clinton said, “I think turning over a lot of that material—intentionally or unintentionally—drained, gave all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like.” She went on to explain how the information being leaked to these terrorist groups has put the lives of people working inside of these camps in grave danger. Allowing our enemies to obtain classified information regarding our citizens is simply unforgivable and especially when it puts American lives in danger, deserves to be punished under the harshest extent of the law.
One major argument made by the opposition is that the government exceeded its power and broke the law. However in times, such as today, when it is necessary, the government cannot be transparent, because there is no safety in complete transparency because sadly not everyone can be trusted with the government information. Barack Obama affirmed this view just a day after the initial program PRISM was leaked saying, “you can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience” (qtd in Gidda). About a year after President Obama made his comments, Clinton talked on a panel at the University of Connecticut, and she “justified their utility in protecting the U.S. from another terrorist attack in the wake of 9/11” (Roller). Clinton also said 9/11 is a perfect example of the need for the NSA to implement a large system of security, for “people were desperate to avoid another attack” (qtd in Roller). The surveillance was necessary to protect the American people that foreign enemies were trying to hurt.
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