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Edward Snowden, Pt III: The Final Installment Cautions and Conclusions

SnowdenImage(opEd)By Garrick Hoffman

“What really matters here is the kind of government we want, the kind of internet we want, the kind of relationship between people and society,” lamented whistleblower Edward Snowden in a TED Talk earlier this year. “…If I had to describe myself, I wouldn’t use words like hero, like patriot, like traitor. I would say I’m an American and I’m a citizen.”

In the same TED Talk, titled “Edward Snowden: Here’s how we take back the Internet,” the whistleblower explained the perils of having the Internet used as a data pool for the NSA via major corporate internet companies such as Facebook, Yahoo!, and Google, among others. All of these companies agreed to join the PRISM program in the last seven years in a collaboration with the National Security Agency (NSA), transmitting information from their users to aid the NSA’s efforts. He also took the time to explain how the NSA not only committed a tremendous amount of crimes through their surveillance methods – and still does – but how representatives from the NSA lied numerous times, even under oath in congressional hearings. The fact that they had to lie about the programs gives us an understanding of the nefarious gravity of the matter.
Although the Internet is undoubtedly a goldmine for massive, personal data collection worldwide, it’s not the singular source for data collection: your smartphone and your purchasing history, for example, are all at risk of being scrutinized by authorities who ultimately have no right – who are in fact routinely violating the United States Constitution – to do so.
The host of the Talk, who was interviewing Snowden, brought up a reasonable point: “They’ve made a calculation that this [surveillance] is worth doing, as part of America’s defense against terrorism,” mentioning that the system is purportedly worth sacrificing constitutional rights and privacy.

Snowden countered, saying the results are unfounded, and that the first open court that reviewed everything “called these programs Orwellian and likely unconstitutional….Two independent White House panels who reviewed all the classified evidence said these programs never stopped a single terrorist attack. Is it really terrorism that we’re stopping? Do these programs have any value at all? I say no, and all three branches of the American government say no as well.”

According to Snowden, the programs were proposed in the 1990s, the NSA requested authority to carry them out, and both Congress and the US people said no, saying they’re not worth the risk to the economy and that they’re too risky for society. In post-9/11, they used terrorism to justify their actions without requesting permission from Congress or from the US people.
When Snowden was informed that many people, as one Pentagon official said, “would love to put his bullet in my head,” Snowden simply acknowledged this and circumvented it, digressing by saying, “I dont want to harm my government; I want to help my government. We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. we dont have to give up our liberty to have security. By working together, we can have both open government and good private lives.”

Indeed, the paradox of this series on this now-renown whistleblower is that Snowden himself sought to spark discussion about pervasive surveillance, about the state of privacy in the 21st century, about our Constitutional and human rights – and not to place emphasis on the personality behind the leaks.

But despite these intentions, it’s worth noting that Snowden’s actions, no matter what side of the political fence you’re on, took profound tenacity and courage, actions that both reflect and pronounce the significance of standing up on ethical grounds and voicing your objections when injustices are being committed and rights are being infringed upon. He is now an effigy for what it means to take extraordinary risks for the betterment of the public and for the virtue of moral principles. He is a champion of America, of the United States Constitution, and of the people. Furthermore, he is “proof that an individual can go head-to-head against the most powerful adversaries…around the world, and win.”

And considering Snowden worked in the highest levels of US government, including prestigious tenure at the NSA and the CIA (as well as military experience he gained in the wake of 9/11, feeling the patriotic fervor that so many others shared after the attacks), the significance of the revelations is that much more jarring.

In conclusion, what Edward Snowden revealed and what he was trying to accomplish are matters that are in our best interest to not ignore. Our rights as American citizens and as human beings have been threatened and violated by our own government, the same government that was designed by our Founding Fathers to work in the interests of the people, not against them. We are living in what George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and even Kurt Vonnegut once envisioned as a reality tantamount to a nightmare, a reality that they once fictionally constructed as a caution to future perils. If we are going to fight back, if we are going to be prepared for what the future holds, we must first be aware.

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