Hero? Or villain?
Edward Snowden leaked secrets about government tracking of phone calls, emails, and more. It's too early to label him before we know more details; that means it's also premature to condemn him as some rushed to do.
The 29-year-old former analyst for the National Security Agency and for the CIA has spotlighted the big questions:
- Must our government keep detailed tabs on everybody in order to detect and stop terrorists?
- Is it a crime to reveal that this is going on?
- Should it be a crime?
The problem is not that government is snooping. The problem is that the snooping seems unlimited and targeted at everyday people.
As Snowden told the British
Guardian newspaper, "I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy."
America wants heroes; Snowden is a better candidate than Pvt. Bradley Manning because Snowden wants to protect privacy whereas Manning wanted to embarrass the military. Manning's leaks were political; Snowden's seem to be protective.
It's odd that protecting public privacy should require exposing government's private secrets.
While President Obama and some in Congress defend the NSA, the author of the Patriot Act provision being used by NSA is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who says going after records in bulk is misinterpreting the law.
The excessive overreach seems obvious. Despite its controversies, the FBI/TSA "no-fly" list has less than 25,000 people on it, compared to about 150 million Americans who fly each year. Anti-terrorist monitors could winnow down their electronic surveillance in similar fashion.
We protest when little old grandmas are frisked at airport security. But we're told that it's necessary so we won't be accused of profiling. Although we bristle at it, most of us have come to accept that everybody is targeted and screened when we fly.
We accept special scrutiny because stopping would-be bombers and hijackers at the airport and checking for the likes of drug smugglers at border crossings are special situations.
But there is nothing special or suspicious about phoning home, dialing-up a friend, or making a business call. Or emailing them.
Whether NSA "only" collects meta data or whether they collect more does not change the basic issue of protecting our Constitutional rights against government intrusion.
NSA is not the only agency that has gone too far. Only a week ago another London paper, the Daily Mail, posted a list of words whose use is being monitored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The long list includes not only all spellings of al-Qaida and Al-Shababb, but also words like "hurricane," "avalanche," "police," "Mexico," "airport," "subway," and "bridge." The list was disclosed through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Good luck with using FOIA to penetrate what the NSA is doing! That requires a whistle-blower.
The timing is perfect for Edward Snowden to attract sympathy and support. Public trust in government has eroded, most recently from the IRS abuses of private information, the official deception about Benghazi, the Justice Department claim that a FOX reporter committed treason by doing his job, and the secret subpoena of Associated Press phone records.
This no-trust case is strong even without picking a fight over the lies about Obamacare.
It's unusual when a whistle-blower blows the whistle on his own identity but that enhances Snowden's credibility. In the video posted online by London's Guardiannewspaper, Snowden comes across as candid and not fanatic. Snowden seems much more credible in answering questions than Jay Carney does in the White House Press Room.
Even before Snowden outed himself, the Obama administration was calling for prosecuting the whistle-blower. That may backfire. It's a strange thing when government officials can get away with lying, while someone who tells the truth can be thrown in prison.
Former Congressman Ernest Istook is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation. His commentaries and more are collected at www.istook.com. Read more reports from Ernest Istook — Click Here Now.
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