Saturday, 27 July 2013

Why Edward Snowden is the story.

I keep reading commentaries about the NSA leaks that stress that "Edward Snowden is not the story", e.g., "Edward Snowden's not the story. The fate of the internet is." Of course, I agree that when the story broke there was far too much distraction about his upbringing, his girlfriend and things that he's alleged to have posted in obscure chat rooms five years ago. But I disagree that Edward Snowden is not the story. One obvious point, there's no reason there has to be only one story. But more importantly, the fate of Edward Snowden is a key part of this story because his fate is a telling sign of how his revelations are being perceived and the effect they're having.

For one thing, if he's prosecuted and convicted and receives a lengthy jail sentence, then this will have an obvious chilling effect in terms of possibly preventing people from making such revelations in the future. But beyond what effect this case has on future attempts at whistleblowing, the fate of Edward Snowden will tell us whether his actions are being perceived as whistleblowing. Imagine his revelations effecting steps being taken to scale back the secret surveillance and to assure the world that US internet companies can once again be trusted -- it almost happened last week. Were that to occur, it would be hard to see that as anything but a vindication of Snowden's actions. And if his actions were to be vindicated in that manner, wouldn't it become difficult to severely punish Snowden? The extent to which he has committed a wrongdoing is inversely proportional to the extent to which what he has revealed were wrongdoings.  And therefore, the extent to which the US thinks they can go in attempting to punish and convict Snowden is an indicator of what kind of effect his revelations have had. In this sense, the fate of Edward Snowden remains a central part of this story.

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