Millions of Americans learned last week that their government is spying on them and looking at their phone records, via a massive surveillance program that is operated by the National Security Agency. Citizens have one man to thank for these revelations: Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old “geek,” who leaked the information about the program to the media.
Snowden was an employee for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He had access to secret information about the controversial surveillance program, while his company was doing work for the NSA. He left the country to Hong Kong with the information that he had gathered from the NSA about three weeks ago. He then shared what he knew to the Guardian newspaper on Thursday, June 5.
This NSA program, which grants the federal government and its intelligence agencies access to our phone records, is a clear assault on our privacy, constitutional rights and civil liberties. Snowden had explained that, from his office, he could wiretap anybody in the country.
That is frightening.
NSA Director Keith Alexander said that the program has helped the government abort “dozens” of terrorist plots. However, regardless of the validity of Alexander’s claims, the government should not spy on its entire population. This massive surveillance is caused by paranoia that hands our private lives to federal employees.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.”
However, this isn’t only about our freedom and privacy; the secrecy of the program is an indicator of the lack of transparency evident in the way that Uncle Sam deals with us. It took a brave whistleblower, like Snowden, who risked everything in his life, to take the cover off of this embarrassing program that the government was hiding.
The federal government is expected to prosecute Snowden for leaking classified information. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the National Intelligence Committee in Congress, went to the extreme to call what Snowden did “an act of treason.” However, as of Thursday, June 13, no charges were rendered against Snowden.
The government should not go after him at all.
Snowden said that he is not in Hong Kong to hide from justice, and that he is willing to go to court, because he trusts the semi-autonomous Chinese province’s legal system.
The whistleblower should be saluted, not imprisoned, for informing Americans about the far reaching powers of their government.
“Can we replace the right to bear arms with the right to leak documents? I think fighting oppression works differently now,” wrote digital artist Kyle McDonald on Twitter last week.
In this day and age, information is power in the hands of citizens. It protects against tyrannical acts by the government. Those who make this information available should be protected by the U.S. Constitution.
When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the messiness of the Vietnam War in 1971, he was prosecuted by the government. However, today, he is regarded as a national symbol of courage.
People have a right to know what their government is doing, and those who “enlighten” them should not be punished for it.
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