The Lionization of Snowden Demonstrates the Lethal Combination of Low Standards and High Ideals

I will never understand how anyone could consider Edward Snowden a “hero.” I hesitate to call him a “traitor,” but there is a lot of territory between “hero” and “traitor,” and I feel he occupies some territory in between, albeit not even close to “hero.” What has he done that’s “heroic” in any way? He joined a government agency with what seems to be an express purpose of stealing classified documents. Then, before he showed them to us, he high-tailed it to China. He claims to alternately have hundreds or thousands of documents, depending on the day, but he’s only shown us a handful so far. And in his initial introduction to us, he lied like a rug about who he was, how much money he made, how long he’d worked for the NSA and a host of other things. Now, this lover of liberty is in the freedom loving country of Russia, where he is being used as a pawn to poke the United States in the eye.

At this point, it’s impossible to dismiss the possibility that he shared his document-laden bounty with Chinese and/or Russian intelligence agencies. It’s possible he didn’t, but there’s no way to know for sure. How is it possible to think of someone like that as a hero? Shouldn’t heroism be unambiguous to people from the same country or culture?

And that’s another thing; Snowden refuses to submit to the justice system that he swears he’s trying to protect. That’s anything but heroic. Heroes fall on their sword and fight, rather than run away from the fight. If he is so absolutely sure of the cause he’s supposedly fighting for, then why is he not here, gathering followers and working to change the way the system works? Mandela and King spent time in jail. The patriots who founded this country risked life and liberty to create the United States. When protecting justice and civil rights, you have to face the threat, not run away from it. The Declaration of Independence was sent to King George III with the full knowledge that everyone who signed it would be branded a traitor. They didn’t run to France; they fought a war over a principle, that we have only recently started actually following.

What’s heroic about this guy, except for the fact that he says what a certain strain of liberals and (Capital L) Libertarians want to hear?

And isn’t that the crux of the matter? According to the Snowden lovers, the rights they care about are absolute and there is no compromise to be made with regard to them. One of their favorite rights is privacy. I don’t blame them; it’s a favorite of most people, myself included. But only a small subset of people think we should have absolute privacy, no matter what, and that the government should have access to no information about you without probable cause. And these are the folks who lionize Snowden. They seem to see any information the government has about us as a threat to their basic liberty.

It’s curious how similar the arguments from privacy rights absolutists are to those made by gun rights absolutists. Gunloons claim everyone should be allowed to carry any weapon they choose, anywhere they want. Meanwhile, privacy rights absolutists think the NSA having the metadata from their phone calls steps over the line, and apparently have been under the impression that information surrounding every phone call just dissolves into the ether once the call is over.

Of course, none of that has ever been the case. Your phone information is actually more private now than it has ever been. Remember those big hulking phone books they used to plop on our doorsteps? Remember the days before cell phones and do-not-call lists?

And where do some folks get the idea that any rights are absolute. Historically and logically speaking, rights can’t be absolute. In addition to their duty to protect our rights, the government is also charged with keeping us all safe and secure, to the extent possible. Our rights have to be balanced with the rights of everyone else. One person’s rights necessarily ends where they begin to infringe on the rights of others. You have a right to free speech, but you don’t have the right to stand on my front lawn with a bullhorn at 3 a.m., and you don’t have the right to threaten anyone with bodily harm. You have the right to a fair trial with a robust defense, but you don’t have the right to hide behind the Constitution when committing a criminal offense and trying to escape detection.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t just protect your rights; it also gives the government parameters that it can use to keep us safe from those who would do us harm. Think about it; putting limits on what the government can do automatically assumes that government can do something. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment says government can’t look at you; it says the government can’t go beyond a certain point without probable cause and a warrant. We, as a society, not you as an individual, get to decide where that point sits. While we all agree that no one should be able to listen in on your actual conversations without a warrant, should the fact that you dialed a particular number at a particular time be held as sacred? Given that the act of making a phone call is much like walking down a public street and heading into a McDonalds for a burger, what expectation of privacy do we have for that, really? Is it something we should discuss? Absolutely. But we don’t get to decide what our rights are on an individual basis; we all have to agree. And can we get real here about the Internet? Demanding complete and total privacy there is very much like running naked down the freeway and demanding that no one see you. It’s called an “information superhighway” for a reason.

The government is charged with protecting our life, liberty and property. We charge them with enforcing the law and preventing crime. The Bill of Rights is not designed to give you the absolute right to never be asked questions, and it is not designed to force law enforcement to sit on its hands until evidence of a crime or a perpetrator falls into its lap. They can look for your name in the phone book, and they can Google you and check your Facebook page, just as any run-of-the-mill citizen. What the NSA is doing is tantamount to looking at your cell phone bill, without the identifying information on that bill. It’s difficult to see a justification for not allowing that, especially in a country where citizens routinely drive a motor vehicle with an identifying number everywhere they go.

It’s kind of funny, really. Some of these people who lionize Snowden and tar Obama have spent the last 12 years faulting George W. Bush for not stopping terror attacks that killed 3,000 people. You can’t have it both ways. There are people out there who are trying to murder innocent people all over the world; that’s not a fiction created as a pretext to look at your phone call metadata and your IP addresses. No NSA analyst is sitting in his office listening to your phone sex with Blonde Betty. The one thing missing in this whole NSA “scandal” is any actual evidence that the NSA is doing anything illegal, or even wrong. What Snowden has given us so far is a bunch of documents that show that the NSA is involved in surveillance activities involving phone call metadata, and a few documents that indicate that some in the NSA might want to push things a little farther than the law allows. There are people like that everywhere. That someone puts his or her private thoughts into a memo does not mean the agency he or she works for has adopted that position.

What is missing from the information released thus far is evidence that the NSA has been going outside the parameters of the law. In fact, from what we’ve seen so far, they’ve been bending over backward to comply with the law. Is the law not strict enough? Should there be even greater limits on their reach? That’s a great discussion to have. But we’re not having that discussion. Instead, Snowden and Greenwald are the discussion, and the NSA is being slammed for violating our privacy, without evidence. The size of the database is evidence of nothing, other than a whole lot of people and businesses are using cell phones these days.

Before labeling someone a “hero,” at least make sure that what he or she did made a positive difference. We aren’t safer or more secure as a result of Snowden’s actions. In fact, it may turn out to be just the opposite. There’s nothing wrong with high ideals, but they have to be tempered with reality.

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