Edward Snowden

I was surprised and amused that George Takei was ambivilent to be listed behind Edward Snowden on a list of tech heroes of 2013. I know my brother, a professional intelligence officer, thinks Snowden is guilty of treason.

I agree with characterizing Edward Snowden as a tech hero. He’s also a criminal, but many many heroes in acts of social progress are nominally guilty of crimes.

Let me be clear: while I admire my brother and believe many military officers are honorable and respectable, I instinctively don’t trust the military-industrial complex. Partly I don’t trust the world view of many people who self-select to be in the military or related industries, and partly I see a natural conflict of interest that rewards that industry for fear-mongering. They may not intentionally be skewing their efforts to justify more militancy, but there is still a subtle incentive to emphasize how dangerous the world is and how important their efforts are instead of assuring the world that all is well and we have been worrying too much.

Edward Snowden kickstarted a great discussion about how much information gathering (spying?) is too much. The security apparatus has replied by asserting that the results justify the means, that this overreach has made America safer. In the absence of specific examples, I’m skeptical. Heck, even if specific examples were given, I’d still doubt how much was directly and exclusively attributable to the overreach.

Snowden has made the Federal government let us discuss exactly how much they collect. This is in stark contrast to a few years ago when it was reported that the NSA or someone like them was directly wired into a major telecomm switching site in San Francisco. “Oh, no, that would be wrong, we wouldn’t do that. And you can’t prove it.” Well, it was wrong, but they were doing it. Now Snowden has presented the world with overwhelming volumes of proof of various kinds of abuse. No one is saying that what he’s providing is false; the worst they can say is that he shouldn’t have revealed the truth.

I’m all for Snowden facing the consequences of his acts of abusing his power as a system administrator. Getting people, for example, to give him their NSA passwords under false pretenses, is a tacky thing for a system administrator to do. Legally, he has no defense against prosecution for that. I’d hope President Rodham-Clinton or President Warren would eventually pardon him, but for now, he’s guilty of some computer security crimes. However, he’s not guilty of treason. He’s not giving aid and comfort to the enemy. If they receive any comfort, it’s a secondary effect, not a primary effect.

Speaking the truth shouldn’t be a crime. Calling “Bullshit!” on lies and deception shouldn’t be a crime. It’s too bad he had to commit crimes to get the proof needed to substantiate the argument, but the basic act of making the NSA concede their actions is heroic in my book.


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