In a society that values liberty, a whistleblower should be a hero. A whistleblower should not be forced to choose between their personal well-being and coming forward. A society governed for the people and by the people should have no fear of their government because it is an embodiment of the citizenry itself, one with their best interests in mind.
It's a shame this doesn't describe today's ostensibly free democratic societies.
When defining tyranny, we like to name places like North Korea, China, or pre-liberation Iraq. What about the state of affairs at home? We should be very anxious about our steadily eroding freedom of thought, action, and opinion. When protesters are attacked for exercising their inviolable right to peaceably assemble, your own civil rights are deteriorating by proxy.
The socio-political climate in the west that has grown up around the indefinite war on terror is oppressive; it's near Orwellian in tone. It's like McCarthyism on ADHD meds with a high-speed Internet connection. In this era, as in past ones, dangerous and illegal overreaches of governmental authority are written off as hiccoughs along the road of functioning democracy, necessary in extraordinary times.
I call bullshit on that. The times are always extraordinary enough to justify violating your civil rights. Look back to the Japanese Americans interred in prison camps, or the suspected communists hounded out of their livelihoods. Or just look in the mirror -- they're spying on you here and now, and they will always have a reason to keep doing so. There are too many of these lapses for me to believe it's anything but the natural inclination of those in power to seek more, by whatever means at their disposal. At its core, it's instinctive; in practice, it's calculated.
Only dictators and oligarchs need fear their citizenry knowing the truth, or too undiluted a version of the truth. The truth should be a friend to free people everywhere. Instead, sources of leaks are immediately made enemies of the state. They find their credibility called into question and are slandered until they're reviled by at least some portion of the population. They tend to continue their lives in permanent exile, or waste away in prison. Sometimes, they end them as suicides.
Edward Snowden's insider announcement on the scope of the NSA's ability to gather, archive, and analyze information should come as no shock to the more cynical among us. I already believed that the NSA was essentially recording everything, but it is nice to have something to cite.
"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting," Snowden told Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill in a recent Hong Kong interview. "That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
It wasn't long ago that we found out that the Department of Justice secretly and illegally seized the electronic records of Associated Press journalists. When you look at that fiasco as part of a wider pattern of oppressive and often-illegal government activity, it reads disturbingly like a calculated effort to control the flow of information.
Another whistleblower we should be thanking, Deric Lostutter, recently had his home raided by a team of heavily armed federal agents. Lostutter is better known as KYAnonymous, the man who released the incriminating social media material that led to the conviction of two rapists in Steubenville.
While the rapists received one and two year terms, Lostutter could be looking at 10 for his alleged computer crimes. What's worse, the agents threatened to add to his charges if he told anyone about the raid. That type of demand sounds better suited to extortionists and gangsters than to FBI Agents.
When asked about what he sees in store for himself, Snowden responded with an ominous, "Nothing good." He said that his loved ones were unaware of his plan, and that now his "primary fear is that they will come after my family, my friends, my partner." If you feel that someone who has come forward about egregious overreaches of government power should be forced to fear for everyone close to him, hide out in the People's Republic of China, and desperately pray for asylum, we'll never see eye to eye.
Unchecked governmental authority has grown with the exponential explosion of technological advancement. It was easy enough to assume, but now we're staring down the truth of it. If we don't find a way to pressure the powers that be to give up some of their hidden power, contrary to all of their self-aggrandizing instincts, we're in for a very stark decline into a classically dystopian future.