whistleblowers

The recent Edward Snowden case has woken up people the world over. From what we know, the American government, specifically the National Security Agency (NSA), has been able to intercept messages, phones, and Skype calls – basically anything to do with internet communications – at whim. But now the dust is settling, people are thinking that Snowden should be prosecuted.  Despite homeland approval ratings that show Snowden to be held in higher esteem than both President Obama, and the U.S Congress, the majority of Americans think he should be prosecuted.

One of those calling for Snowden’s incarceration is Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker, who said: “For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistleblower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison”. It only begs the question, why are they turning on whistle-blowers? Indeed, even as I type this, Bradley Manning, the ex-U.S Army soldier who revealed to Wikileaks several documents on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, including a video that showed helicopter pilots seemingly revel in killing civilians, could possible face life imprisonment.

It seems this society isn’t one that values whistle-blowers, some sections of society would call them traitors or ‘grandiose narcissists’, rather than what they really are, heroes. I cannot even begin to wonder what society would be like if people, like Snowden or Manning, didn’t come out and risk not only their careers, but possibly their lives, for the sake of freedom and liberty. Yet, many sectors of society continue to lambast them, saying they would rather be snooped upon then blown up or something along those lines.

Well, for starts – the intelligence services over here in the U.K were snooping on the Woolwich killers and had plenty of information on them. Yet they were able to kill Lee Rigby despite the likes of MI5 having prior knowledge on them. Clearly, wanton invasions of privacy aren’t exactly a guarantee of security.

I can wholly understand why people would say spying is something that everyone knew went on, and is something that is needed to keep us safe – I dare say the actions of MI6 or MI5 have probably saved countless lives. Yet there is a difference between spying and the actions the NSA were undertaking. You don’t spy on your own citizens, you don’t check their emails, and you don’t look at what they were typing. That’s not spying to protect a nation, that’s Orwellian.

However, many commentators shrug this off – saying that Snowden is, if anything, simply a threat to national security. Take this view from John Bolton in the Guardian: “The political implications are grave. Snowden has given Beijing something it couldn’t achieve on its own: moral equivalence.”– Bolton is saying this because he views that Snowden’s leaks have given the Chinese government some handy knowledge that they shouldn’t really have. However, I would argue that all Snowden’s done is reveal to the world that the United States has the moral equivalence to China – all he has done that is truly eye-opening is to reveal that, really, both the U.S and China violate the liberty of their own citizens. It’s just no-one really knew that the U.S did it to the same extent as China, until Edward Snowden leaked the information to the Guardian. And as well as this, I’d take anything said by John Bolton, who worked for the Bush administration, with a pinch of salt – whilst he was in government, his administration hardly championed privacy and liberty.

Indeed, Snowden’s actions have also drawn attention back to previous government snooping prior to the PRISM leak. Such as the initiation of the PATRIOT Act by George W. Bush, which allowed Bush to wiretap phones and arrest people without trial. He also set up Guantanamo Bay – a prison that kept suspected terrorists detained indefinitely. Obama also promised to close said prison – yet its doors remain wide open. It’s the likes of Edward Snowden that draw people’s attention to such gross violations of human rights.

Another gripe I have on this issue is also the ignorance of us, the British, to Edward Snowden. Other than the Guardian’s coverage, everyone seems to be turning a blind eye, or simply ignoring it. It’s been covered continually in the United States, Canada – even Germany and France! But why not over here? With the Snoopers Charter possibly being only just round the corner, I would think this is big news! Yet it seems the press it determined to ignore the NSA leak by Snowden – indeed you’d be hard-pressed to find a story on Bradley Manning’s trial as well in most papers.

Ultimately, I feel that people like Snowden or Manning should be praised, or at the very least heard for their actions. Yet the public seem to be accepting this as a fact. Spying happens, and it keeps the public safe – these are the usual arguments rolled out to defend it. Spying on other countries to gather intelligence, I’ll accept, but not invading the privacy of your own population. Hopefully Edward Snowden won’t fade into obscurity, nor will people lose attention on Bradley Manning’s struggle. That was Edward Snowden’s greatest fear after all, that his revelations would be met with apathy.

BY: Rory Claydon