The revelations surrounding the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States and the Global Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom show the disturbing penetration into people’s private lives that two of the “most liberal” governments claim the authority for. It’s been nearly three weeks since The Guardian published the information that they had received from ex-CIA employee, Edward Snowden, much in the same way as information previously provided by WikiLeaks. This case continues to demonstrate the immense difficulties and dangers presented to those few whistle-blowers.
Positively, in this case, Snowden was well aware of the consequences of his actions and prepared his line of escape, flying to Hong Kong and taking temporary refuge there. Yet, it is a dismal state of affairs that a man should seek political asylum from such a “liberal” nation for something that amounts to accountability of a tax-paid scheme. The mass surveillance programs used by the NSA were not voted for by the US citizenship and do not solely pervade the home country, but also reaches out across the world in their attempts to spy on people and their governments. Now, I’m not saying that the US Government is the worst for invading privacy, but the secret nature of these operations make them ten times worse than most. At least in countries that are renowned for their lack of privacy, they are renowned for it; you know what you’re getting there. Within the US, it was a different story; it was another case of the US deciding that liberty needed to be sacrificed in the name of security, without consulting their citizens on the issue.
Snowden faces three charges from the US Government: theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information, and wilful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorised person. It is easy to take issue with each of these charges. Firstly, the US Government works for US citizens, is paid for by US citizens and is elected by US citizens, so everything it creates and receives should surely be the property of US citizens. Surely the charge here then is synonymous with “theft of public property” or “theft of civilian property”. But, Snowden is a US civilian, and he can’t steal from himself and he’s not inhibiting others’ access to it – in fact, he’s making it more accessible – so can this charge be applied? I’d argue not, but this is most certainly not a view that the US Government or, perhaps, the courts will agree on. The other two charges follow on from this point; the government were not authorised to intrude on people’s lives by those who have the authorisation – the public – so how was Snowden supposed to get authorisation from the public to communicate the government’s secret work? Now, you may disagree with the fact that this information and operation does indeed belong to the US citizens but there remains a case for government accountability and a warrant for the public to know what their government is doing in their name.
The continued reaction by the US Government only serves to deepen the frustration and anger with the administration. In their desperation to shut Snowden’s mouth, gag him and take him away to Guantanamo Bay, they are making outlandish demands on the international community; not to harbour him, or to let him travel, unless it is back to the US. With joy, many countries have ignored this command from the self-proclaimed President of the World, as Hong Kong, Russia, Ecuador and Cuba rally behind Snowden. The US’ hope that they could get away with unilaterally enforcing security in the world has failed. They are deepening the cut by continuing their hostility, secrets and heavy-handedness.
Let us join in with the international solidarity for Edward Snowden who has performed an incredible and brave action that he should most certainly not be persecuted for.
By James Phillips