Courtesy of Edward Snowden

Why is Edward Snowden a Hero?

An unlikely whistleblower. An unlikely hero. Edward Snowden did not even graduate from high school.

Working his way up from a security guard, Snowden made his way into the CIA and ultimately became a contractor for the National Security Agency utilizing his genius for computers to leverage an impressive career.

His career achievements, however, came with an unforeseen price: knowledge of the inner workings of the NSA and its vast surveillance program.

This unlikely whistleblower gradually realized that the U.S. had developed a surveillance program right out of the pages of 1984 that not only intercepted the electronic communications of suspected terrorists but also blatantly eavesdropped on the average American as well.

Such writers as Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker snidely refer to Snowden as “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison”.

But is this such a fair judgement when Snowden’s intention is to perform a public good?

After all, Snowden follows in a tradition established by Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department official who released the Pentagon papers, and Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli technician who revealed to the world the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

How has posterity framed what these two men did?

Is it then somewhat shortsighted of our society to criticize an individual who essentially destroyed his own life to remind Americans that they actually have an exceedingly poor understanding of what their government is actually up to?

What is the lasting negative impact of Snowden’s information leaks?

The way the debate is framed, Snowden knowingly committed a crime.

What he did was illegal.

He should be punished.

Running away was cowardly and demonstrated he was unable to come to terms with the consequences of his actions.

The truth is that as a free society we need to change in such a way as to keep an important balance between our security and our freedom.

Such is the nature of civil disobedience. Without it, positive, necessary change does not always happen.

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Thomas O'Donoghue

Thomas O'Donoghue

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