By JOHN ARZINOS
BOLOGNA — If we define the word justified as “acting in a just and honorable way,” Edward Snowden was justified. Let’s be clear: This is not to suggest that he did not break laws by revealing classified information, but rather that our perception of justice is not limited to the law — it also includes notions of moral obligation and civil disobedience.
First of all, in the contents of this debate, we support that Snowden’s actions were necessary. We understand that there must be a balance between privacy and national security. However, the NSA and government were overstepping their mandate to protect American citizens. Checks and balances in intelligence agencies deteriorated, resulting in secrecy, abuse of power, and stretched interpretations of the Patriot Act. This can be seen in the creation of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, which was originally created in 1979 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against foreign intelligence agents. Unfortunately, this court has become merely a rubber stamp. Only 11 requests have been denied since the court’s creation in 1979. By contrast, 33, 942 have been accepted. There was abuse, let there be no doubt.
There have been identified instances of abuse of the power of surveillance both by employees of the agencies and by the agencies themselves. Furthermore, by allowing such vast control to the government, we run the risk of losing the fundamental values and principles upon which America was founded.
Furthermore, Henry David Thoreau talked about civil disobedience and how on the occasion of being an agent of harm to others, it becomes morally necessary for that individual to oppose those actions. Snowden has time and time again claimed he was acting out of such a moral obligation.
Moreover, the way Snowden did this was not that he just dumped the data onto the media and let them make hay of it. He went to two journalists who have considerable experience in making judgment calls as to what information needs to be made public. These journalists in turn are working with the government to plan their publication. The government might not have a veto in the matter but they are definitely getting a say.
Before going to the media however, Snowden knew that other avenues for whistleblowing were blocked by the system. In testimony to the European Parliament, he wrote that he had reported policy or legal issues related to spying programs to more than 10 officials, but as a contractor he had no legal avenue to pursue further whistleblowing.
From a utility perspective, there has been no public evidence that the surveillance of American citizens has had any tangible advantages in thwarting terrorism. Yet, the fact that we are talking about this issue today may be the biggest impact of Snowden’s efforts. At the end of the day, the fact that we are discussing which anti-terrorism laws our governments have made and how they have been interpreted is central to the democratic value system that we believe is fundamental to the way our society functions.