Wise Czar

Whistle-blowing From Different Whistles

Posted on: June 24, 2013

        A spy thriller is playing out before our very eyes as Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who revealed the United States government’s surveillance program of U.S. citizens, is seeking asylum in Russia. Reports have arisen that Snowden plans ultimately to seek refuge in the South American nation of Ecuador. Meanwhile, the U.S. is desperately seeking to extradite him for prosecution, resulting in a manhunt worthy of a Jason Bourne film. 1332361939-whistleblower

            All of this is vaguely familiar. It resembles the 2010 hunt for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who apparently leaked a host of secret U.S. diplomatic and military records on his website. Thus far, Assange has avoided extradition by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

            Both Snowden and Assange have a broad base of supporters who argue that they should be pardoned, and that it was right for them to reveal those secrets to the world. Indeed, on the surface, it appears that both men represent the same breed of whistleblower. Some will argue that both are traitors to their country, while others will praise them as heroes.

            However, the nature of each man’s whistle blowing is different, and the differences should be taken into account when deciding whether the action was treacherous or noble.

            Julian Assange is a hacker and has been so since his teenage years. He published sensitive diplomatic and military cables on his website that had been obtained through various means, among which was likely hacking.

            This diplomatic and military material does not infringe on any rights held by U.S. citizens. Instead, much of it deals with military operations and relations between governments that are all part of maintaining a tactful U.S. foreign policy. Public dissemination of such knowledge can quickly result in damaging consequences like straining a strategic partnership between the U.S. and another country or endangering the lives of soldiers on a secret mission.

            Thus, although perhaps some of this material can safely be released, it is better to keep, especially the more sensitive information, secret to avoid unnecessarily endangering American lives or foreign policy in any way. In other words, there is good reason to keep such material classified, and whoever steals and irresponsibly releases it is going down a dangerous road, although he will not be judged here.

            Edward Snowden’s case differs significantly. He revealed that the U.S. government is monitoring its citizens’ phone calls and possibly even e-mails and social media accounts. In essence, the government is directly infringing upon Americans’ right to privacy.

            This fact is disturbing enough. Worse still is that the government wanted to keep this a secret. Unlike sensitive documents detailing specific military strategies, public knowledge of government phone and e-mail tapping in no way endangers lives. If Americans know they are being monitored, it does not undermine the government’s attempts to monitor them.

            A government spokesperson may argue that this knowledge might make potential terrorists more careful in communicating and thus harder to catch; but if the government’s surveillance program is as thorough as Snowden alleges, they won’t be able to communicate at all short of using carrier pigeons.

            Thus, Snowden’s revelation seems to do no visible damage to his country. How is his action then treasonous? Just because Americans know that their government is spying on them does not mean it will stop doing so. Perhaps the NSA will actually begin more effective and ethical monitoring now that it must answer to the public to some extent.

            The U.S. government is seemingly ignoring this logic as it continues actively to seek Snowden’s extradition and prosecution. Snowden is not Assange. The information he released harms no one. Instead, it increases government transparency, something that every freedom-loving American, including those in power, should support.

Sources

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/23/politics/nsa-leaks

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian?currentPage=all

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2010/11/2010112961154954144.html

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