Criminal or Not, Edward Snowden Did the Right Thing

06/26/2013 12:20 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has gone into hiding. Hopefully he will be smart enough to stay in hiding, forever. As Cuba can attest, the U.S. doesn't forgive real or perceived transgressions ever, no matter how many times the White House changes hands. As Bradley Manning or numerous others before him can attest, the U.S. is neither merciful nor lenient.

The thing is that, whether he committed a crime or not, Snowden did the U.S. and the world a big favour by revealing the extent of U.S. spying. The NSA and PRISM are both not only un-American but go against the very spirit and nature of western democracy.

The basic idea that we're all supposed to be working under is that government represents but does not rule over the people. In other words, our representatives are managers, not lords or kings. Under such a system what the government does should rarely, if ever, be secret. We pay our government officials and we pay for whatever they do. Their actions, taken in our name and paid for with our money should only be secret under the most extreme circumstances.

On the other hand individuals within society are supposed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In the U.S. and most other countries there are specific, constitutional protections against "unreasonable search and seizure."

Somehow though we've arrived in a Bizzaro version of western civilization. What the government does is secret, almost by default. Information that is not secret or redacted is buried, hidden behind wall of red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork. The personal, private, information of individuals though is freely available. It is stored and traded between large corporations and analyzed and scrutinized by government agents without any kind of warrant or probably cause. Worst of all, until Snowden came along, this unprecedented invasion of privacy by government was happening without our knowledge.

The NSA and government claim that the PRISM program has prevented crimes, the thing is that that was never in doubt. The statesmen, scientists and philosophers who laid the foundations for western democracy could have told you that unlimited government surveillance would prevent crime, the problem is that allowing that level of surveillance leads to an entirely different kind of world than the one they envisioned.

If knowledge is power, information is currency and a well educated population is necessary to a healthy democracy, then governments and corporations are rapidly stripping people of their power and reinventing western society in a very top down way.

Under these circumstances it is not surprising that, regardless of which side of the law their are on Snowden and Manning, Wikileaks and Anonymous are emerging as folk heroes. If Snowden does a good job at hide and seek, he could head straight into the category of myth.

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