I am hopeful that in 2014 we will see the fruits of Edward Snowden’s efforts to educate the public about the abuses of government surveillance. Yesterday the NYT Editorial Board published a piece titled, significantly, “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower”. The editorial’s purpose is to argue in support of Snowden being given a chance to return to the U.S. without facing a lengthy—and perhaps not any—prison sentence.
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.
The editorial summarizes the abuses and crimes revealed by Snowden, many of which have yet to be addressed by our government. The Board also provides further evidence for a point that I’ve been making on my show for some time: that Snowden had no realistic alternative available to him, given that his goal was to inform us and the world about our government’s violation of our rights. On my show, I’ve been referring to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton’s remark that “all three branches of government have signed off” on what the N.S.A. is doing. If that’s really true, I argued, then Snowden did the right thing. The NYT Editorial Board buttresses the argument, pointing out that an executive order that Obama has touted as providing protection for whistle-blowers does not apply to contractors like Snowden, only to intelligence personnel. (I wonder if that executive order says anything about a whistle-blower’s email being hacked and deleted.) In addition, the Board noted, Snowden told The Washington Post that he had twice reported the abuses to his superiors, and that the complaints were ignored. The entire editorial is worth a read.
Seeing that the NYT is on the right side in the issue of pervasive government surveillance is heartening, especially in light of the almost continuous revelations about the NSA’s activities. Most recently, Der Spiegel revealed that the NSA was developing software that, as summarized by The Guardian, “would allow it to remotely retrieve virtually all the information on an iPhone including text messages, photos, contacts, location, voice mail and live calls.”
Apple not only denied knowledge of or involvement with this program, it also issued a strongly worded statement which reads, in part:
Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.
If you read that really quickly, you can imagine that Apple is calling the NSA “malicious hackers,” which is something that I would call them. Still, it’s great to see Apple saying that it pledges to “defend [its] customers from security attacks,” even when those attacks come from our own government.
Happy New Year, everyone!