Edward Snowden – a name the world was not familiar with until mid-last year, when the former NSA contractor released a ton of top secret files detailing how the National Security Agency has been secretly spying on and gathering huge amounts of data from US and foreign citizens without their knowledge.
At first many were skeptical of his claims, but as the evidence piled up, both the government and the NSA admitted to most of Snowden’s accusations, causing people to take notice. People are now starting to care more about their privacy and security online, and are calling for reform of the way the NSA collects and handles people’s data.
But the biggest question that still remains is, is to be considered Snowden a hero or a villain?
The US government sees Snowden as the bad guy, hence he is facing criminal charges – namely two violations of the Espionage Act which involve “unauthorized communication of classified information, and a charge of theft of government property.” The three charges carry a 10-year prison sentence each, and if Snowden goes back to the US and faces trial, it is expected that more cases would be brought against him, possibly resulting in him going to prison for the rest of his life.
The government believes that Snowden crippled its anti-terrorism efforts with his leaks and they want his head for it. But is he really the bad guy he’s been made out to be?
Let Snowden come home!
According to the New York Times editorial board, Snowden most definitely isn’t the villain he’s been made out to be. The paper today came out in support of the ex-NSA contractor calling him a “whistleblower” and asking the president to stop vilifying him for exposing alleged wrongdoings within the U.S. intelligence community.
The board writes that Snowden should be allowed to return home and be granted a plea bargain, “some form of clemency” or reduced punishment for doing his country “a great service.”
Snowden exposed how the NSA strong-armed tech companies to reveal customer information without a warrant; how the NSA intercepted data from global phones and Internet networks; how the NSA gains access to computer cameras to spy on people; and how the NSA undermined basic encryption systems of the Internet rendering banking and medical data at risk.
President Barack Obama has called on Snowden to return to the US to face the charges against him, and even stated that if he went about it in another matter, he would be protected. Obama signed an executive order that would protect whistleblowers in the intelligence community. But Obama forgot to include that the executive order only applies to intelligence employees – alas, Snowden was only ever a contractor. If he did what the president suggested, he would have gone to jail for treason. Also, Snowden claims he did inform two of his superiors of the NSA’s activities, only for his words to fall on deaf ears.
Going public with the information he has may have been the wisest move for Snowden. The only downside is, now, he has to constantly watch his back, and he may never step foot on US soil again. Was it worth it? According to Snowden, yes it was, because he truly believed that people need to know that they’re being constantly monitored. And now, even the courts see the NSA’s activity as illegal, or at least some of them do.
In December, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ordered the NSA to stop collecting mobile phone records from US citizens and destroy all the files it holds, ruling that this is unconstitutional.
Recently, a special task force committee presented its findings to President Obama. The team presented 46 recommendations, and it was said that President Obama was open to most of them. One of the recommendations included was that the agency would be required to get specific court approval, more oversight from the congress, and specific presidential approval for spying on national leaders, especially those of allies. Even tech companies are calling for the end of government surveillance by forming the Reform Government Surveillance group with the belief that it is about time for “world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.”
Original source: The New York Times