If it were not for Edward Snowden, President Barack Obama would not have been making a major speech Friday about the government’s massive spying program, acknowledging that debate about surveillance practices is important and will “make us stronger.”
Yes, if it were not for Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency’s collection of phone and Internet data on hundreds of millions of Americans would still be a government secret. In addition, if you believe the president, without Snowden’s leaking of the classified information even he would still be in the dark about it.
So, it is unfortunate that the president did not offer some kind of deal to Snowden, who remains in exile in Russia while facing charges of theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.
It was last June when Snowden, a whistleblower, not a criminal, gave an estimated 1.7 million documents related to surveillance and other NSA operations to several journalists. The revelations did spur some debate about the secret spying, but the fact that it did not cause more Americans to be outraged is a real shock.
It is clear that most people are willing to give their privacy if they feel safer from terrorism as a result. That response may be understandable as part of human nature, but it has never been the American way.
We have always prided ourselves that our republic was founded on the principles of freedom, and we have chided and often fought nations that routinely spied on their citizens, making the concept of privacy meaningless.
On Friday, the president addressed that very dichotomy.
“It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard, and the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account.