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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Edward Snowden – Not quite the hero

Published: September 6, 2013
Section: Opinions

For most people, the word summer holds a positive connotation. From July 4 celebrations to the warm, sunny weather, the summer atmosphere always seems to lift people’s spirits after a frigid winter and a rainy spring. The past summer, however, has been anything but positive for American politics. The past several months have been full of heated debates and controversies, ranging from the ongoing immigration reform debacle to the widespread outrage at the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial—all of which have sparked passionate opinions from all corners of the country.
Out of all of these various controversies, one of the most contentious topics was the debate surrounding Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents revealing details about the NSA’s data collection programs that are said to contribute to prevention of future terrorist attacks. These disclosures have provoked many disputes between politicians, journalists and members of the public about whether Mr. Snowden should be considered a hero or a traitor. It has also prompted a more wide-ranging discussion of the intelligence-gathering practices of U.S. government agencies and their related privacy concerns.
On Aug. 1, Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia and walked free for the first time after running from the U.S. government for several weeks. This gives us all an opportunity to take our attention away from the ongoing manhunt and instead talk about Snowden’s motivations and whether what he did was right. Now, whether you’re an anti-spying activist who believes in civil rights and increased transparency, or if you’re like me and you believe in the necessity of these programs to combat twenty-first century terrorist threats, it is vital to distinguish between the moral and legal validity of the data collection programs and that of the actions of Mr. Snowden. We can have a debate until the end of time about whether government officials should be allowed to use these programs, but that doesn’t change one very simple fact—Edward Snowden is a criminal who broke the law.
No matter one’s opinion of Snowden, the fact of the matter is that Mr. Snowden has violated U.S. law and has been duly charged with theft and unauthorized communication of classified material. He would most likely face time in prison for a lengthy period of time if ever he is tried in a U.S. court. Mr. Snowden is a fugitive on the run from his own country who needs to return home, stand trial and answer for what he has done. If so many in this country can become furious after seeing George Zimmerman walk away freely after allegedly murdering Trayvon Martin, then shouldn’t we be up in arms about a man dodging responsibility for committing an arguably more egregious crime that affects many more people?
When news of this incident first broke out, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky issued a statement labeling Mr. Snowden as a ‘civil disobedient.’ That is exactly what Mr. Snowden is NOT. There have been many activists and historical figures in the past who can be accurately classified as ‘civil disobedients,’ such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The key difference between these men and people like Mr. Snowden is the fact that MLK and Gandhi protested injustices knowing full well that their actions would result in severe consequences, namely imprisonment. MLK and Gandhi took responsibility for their actions and fully accepted their punishment; Mr. Snowden on the other hand chose to run away and beg other countries for asylum rather than stay and own up to the implications of his actions.
As much as I believe that government data collection and wiretapping is essential to the security of a twenty-first century nation, these revelations have indeed ignited a nationwide conversation about the proper extent of government power that is ultimately only going to be healthy for America’s political system. However, if we don’t bring to justice someone who leaks and distributes sensitive and classified information without proper authorization, no matter the purity of his or her motivations, then we are undermining the very justice system that we take so much effort to keep free of corruption. A man has violated several laws and he must be made to stand trial, mount his defense and be given the appropriate punishment.