Sunday, August 11, 2013

Snowden: Patriot or Traitor?

I admit it. I'm very conflicted about Snowden. This does not happen to me very often, as I have pretty strong feelings and reasoned arguments for why I do or do not support policies and beliefs. The question of where to draw the line between security and infringement upon privacy and freedom in the digital age is an important one. We need to have a(n) (inter)national conversation about what his revelations mean.

I am disheartened that many think this conversation is moot. Many see this infringement upon privacy and freedom as inevitable, something we can do nothing about, and agreeable considering the very real threats we do face in a glocalized world where we have nuclear and other weapons unaccounted and accounted for in the hands of people who clearly do not have good intentions.

I see the slippery slope argument, and the idea of the NSA spying on citizens is abhorrent to me. There is no way we can ever know how the government is going about mining data and what criteria they use as justification for "probable cause," if any at all. The law has not caught up to the capabilities for surveillance in the information age. I am not so certain that it is completely futile to try to draw these legal lines, for the law to progress on this account. I am not very hopeful either.

I do not think Snowden committed treason as a whistleblower, but I am unsure what he did do to negotiate asylum. He did something. The misinformation we get from the mainstream media makes it nearly impossible to form a reasoned opinion. The thought of what he might have done for asylum frightens me a bit. I wish I could believe in the justice system enough to say that what he did should be negotiated in court and judged by an impartial jury. But, I do not believe in the impartiality of our judicial system. Every side of this makes me completely uneasy. It is all very ugly.

I am not quick to hail him as a patriot. I do not have enough information to make a judgement one way or the other. It is unlikely that the public will know the truth about who he is and what he did or did not do. I am not naive enough to believe that we do not need surveillance considering the proliferation of (nuclear and other) arms in the world. I am also unsure how the line many imagine the NSA to have crossed in digital surveillance differs from surveillance prior to the digital age. Did not the CIA, NSA, FBI et. al. use questionable tactics in the past to obtain information? How do these tactics differ significantly from what they are doing now? I do not know. If you have thoughts on how this crosses a line they haven't crossed before, I am all ears. I am also not naive to believe that the government uses this program to go after the "bad guys," exclusively. The potential to frame anyone as "a bad guy" looms in the application of this program.

One of my friends commented that this story has him thinking about leaving the country. But, the truth is that there is virtually nowhere on this planet where the question of security versus freedom does not apply. There are a few "uncontacted tribes" left on this planet but only because there are people fighting every day for the outside world to leave them be. I have a feeling the loggers will eventually reach the uncontacted tribes in the Amazon between Brazil and Peru and sooner rather than later. There are places where most people are unaware of the politics and power that affect their everyday lives. But, these processes necessarily affect them in their glocal politico-economies. I am using glocal intentionally in that economies are indeed local but nearly all are connected to global political and economic processes.

I give Snowden credit. He has hit a nerve about where the world goes from here. This issue is much bigger than whether he is a patriot or traitor. It is about global politics, economies, war, and peace and life in a glocalized world in the information age. Perhaps I am making Snowden's revelations more complicated than they are. But, I do not think so.

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