Life must be rather dramatic right now for the former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Accused of breaking one of the biggest intelligent breaches in history after making public the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA)’s methods of surveillance, he’s spent the last few weeks hiding in Hong Kong. Through some complex legal matter which I don’t fully understand – it seems China might have wanted to avoid a drawn-out legal battle – he yesterday boarded a plane to Moscow. My first thought was “Oh no, you’re not running to Putin too?” but it seems he’s merely using Russia as a stepping stone for his next destination. Which could be Iceland but is more probably a South American state like Venezuela or Ecuador. It’s speculated he would go through Cuba to get to these countries. Few of these places have a particularly decent reputation for press freedom but, you know…
This is an immensely complicated issue and I find it really hard to decide where I stand on it all. I do find the concept of governments having the capability to monitor almost all communications we make as being completely abhorrent, yet this revelation didn’t really shock or surprise me. Part of me wants to say, “No, nothing to do with me – not my place to pass judgement,” but, when you realise the central issue of this drama is the relationship between the state and its citizens, it is absolutely our place to pass judgement. Our leaders rule with our consent and by our invitation; we have a right to judge their actions. Therefore, we have a right to know their actions. Of course, there’s the counter argument which states we have the right to security as well. The government would claim that we should willingly accept monitoring in such a way to guarantee our security, but I’m not convinced. It’s endlessly quoted these days, but I think Benjamin Franklin had it precisely correct when he wrote:
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
It’s probably the wrong priority, but what I’m finding much more interesting (and easy to follow) is the resultant spy thriller headlines we’re seeing. “Is he on this plane?” “Is the ambassador here to meet him?” “No, it’s a ruse!” “He’s off to Ecuador!” “No, it’s Venezuela!” Imagine having a life like that. I don’t envy the fear he must be living under bit its certainly more drama than most of us could expect to see in our entire lives. And he’s doing a better job of creating headlines than Julian Assange; “Still holed up in embassy” doesn’t quite sell papers. Also, it’s quite revealing just how many countries are willing to take in and protect this man the US government is hunting. It’s times like this the USA must realise just how many countries and governments they’ve alienated over the years.
To clarify, while I most definitely oppose the almost worldwide spying that the NSA has been conducting, I don’t really know enough to say I either support or oppose Snowden’s actions. I almost feel that if I were to publicly or privately support Snowden, or Assange, or Wikileaks (all of whom I’m glad exist to challenge authority even if I might disapprove of their actions) I may find police knocking down my door at 3am. No, that’s ridiculous. But that’s the thing – after these revelations, I’m beginning to wonder how ridiculous that idea actually is.