Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked information about the NSA, has been the subject of an international manhunt and a diplomatic nightmare since he first surfaced in early June. The United States government has issued espionage warrants against Snowden but some things still don’t add up about the government’s case and about Snowden himself.
Let’s review what Snowden revealed. He said the U.S. government was reading the e-mails of American citizens in the United States. He claimed that if he had the president’s e-mail address it would be a simple matter of reading all of his e-mails. The United States government said that was preposterous. They claim they never look at anyone’s e-mail inside the United States unless they have a warrant. But they claim Snowden has revealed top secret information. If what Snowden is saying is a lie how could he have revealed top secret information? Unless, of course, what Snowden is saying is true.
Snowden himself has some explaining to do. Why would you leave a girlfriend in Hawaii and a family in the D.C. area, exposing them to who knows what because of your exploits, in exchange for a life on the run? If your primary concern was Internet freedom why did you first seek refuge in China, a country with the world’s worst record when it comes to Internet freedom?
If Snowden has revealed top secret information he gleaned as an NSA contractor to Russia or China or some other American adversary then he’s a traitor. If what he did was expose a snooping program that went far beyond what is legally and constitutionally allowed then he’s a hero. Time will tell which one he is but in the meantime he may have changed the trajectory of technology forever.
Prior to the Snowden leaks most Americans were unconcerned about the loss of their privacy. Staying connected, we had rationalized, came with a price. Most never realized how high that price was. Some called me paranoid when I affixed a strip of black tape over the camera hole on my laptop. Through something known as clickjacking, a hacker can trick you into inadvertently giving him permission to access your webcam by fooling you into thinking you’re just clicking to play a video. Once you’ve been duped that hacker can watch you on your webcam. Very scary. Thousands of you are heading for the electrical tape right now.
The net effect of the Snowden leaks may be a massive pullback from technology. Futurists have been predicting things like tiny chips that turn everything in your house into an Internet-ready device. Knowing just how pervasive spying is, not just by governments but by the big Internet companies, gives pause to all of this innovation. If you’ve ever been snow skiing you know the feeling of the skis getting out from under you. It’s a helpless feeling. Right now many of us feel like technology has gotten out from under us. We’ve lost control and it’s downright frightening.
Technology is a wonderful thing when it’s harnessed correctly. It can make life so much easier, so much more fun, so much more fulfilling. When it’s out of control it can be our worst enemy. It can be used to control our every move, to report to the government when we’re not doing what it thinks we ought to be doing. It can literally be used against us in a court of law.
We may be pulling back just before disaster strikes. If we are, we probably have Edward Snowden to thank for it.