The 21st century has been often been called the Information Age. Humankind’s storage and distribution of information exploded with the advent of computerisation and electronics. In this modern world entire libraries of information can be moved across the world through the internet. This advancement of technology and computerisation has not affected the political state in the western world which is still split between country factions and alliances. This new system of easy to access information on the internet has clashed with the secretive nature of governments as we have seen with the cases of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange both whom are wanted for the leaking of content sensitive documents by the United States of America. America is often seen as the leader of the world, a country dedicated to the freedom. It is no surprise when Edward Snowden made headlines on his whistleblowing on the NSA’s breaches of privacy of American citizens. Many offended American citizens made links to dictatorships where the privacy violation was common especially in the now defunct Soviet Union whom America heavily sided against. Edward Snowden was forced to leave the USA and in an ironic turn of events is now living in Russia in political asylum.
So is Edward Snowden a hero or, as our own PM Tony Abbot put recently; “a traitor who betrayed his country”? Considering that Edward Snowden acted to protect the privacy and well-being of his fellow citizens, did not put any lives in danger, and because a truly democratic country should give its citizens the right to leak, and it is clear that he is a hero and a true patriot.
The actual information that Snowden leaked is surrounding the NSA warrantless surveillance on American Citizens and also on high profile international politicians. These warrantless wiretaps have been in use since Bush’s presidency in what was then referred to as the terrorist surveillance program part of the broader President’s Surveillance Program. These programs began shortly after the 911 terrorist attacks and continued on even after several reviews of the surveillance measures by congress in 2008 and 2006. With no change in sight Edward Snowden leaked the details of the scope of the NSA’s surveillance in late 2012 to Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald. Although initially hesitant to publish the story because of the cases of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange that showed the consequences of leaking against the US government, he then succumbed because of the very significant content of the leak.
Snowden is completely free from the arguments against Bradley Manning or Julian Assange that their leaking has put America lives at danger. The NSA leak only leaked information that was of interest to those the government has spied on and the only injury the USA sustained was that to its pride. The government has been caught off guard and embarrassed which is the true reason that they have gone to such length to capture Snowden who is sure himself that if he ever returns to America that “quote”. Manning is currently serving a sentence of 35 years and the US is still actively seeking to extradite Julian Assange. These breaches of morals that the USA has committed are also breaching the rights of Americans.
America’s Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” It is clear that the government has made comprises to its own Bill of Rights in persecuting Edward Snowden for exposing other violations the government has made. Whistleblowing will always be a controversial act, with the act often being seen as traitorous. Edward Snowden is not the first to be ostracized by his government for exposing the questionable actions of his government. A recent case that was exposed by whistleblowing is of the Cootes Petroleum Tanker by a Cootes employee that exposed the company of allowing a retired tanker to continue being used which resulted in the death of two motorists in NSW. It is these sorts of events that protection is vital for whistle-blowers from the organisations they are exposing.
The US does have a Whistle-blower Protection Act but however Edward Snowden is not legally protected under this because he would have had to gone to the NSA inspector general and would have had to receive proper security clearances. This point is used often to pose Snowden as a traitor because he isn’t a legally recognised as a whistleblower. However what these critics fail to realise and also those who designed the Whistle-blower Protection Act is that when an agency’s corruption goes right to the top that the whistle-blower has no choice but to go public with his information.
Edward Snowden will be argued about for the next decade, some will be adamant that he is a traitor and others will see him as a martyr sacrificing his citizenship for the America he believes in. It is this choice of opinion and information that Snowden was fighting for and without heroes like Snowden we wouldn’t have that freedom.