By LINDSAY CEJKA
BOLOGNA — Even though Edward Snowden has disappeared from the media limelight in the past several months, a debate addressing the ramifications of his actions is highly relevant. This June, Congress will vote on renewing the Patriot Act. This legislation gave the initial mandate to intelligence organizations like the NSA and agency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts when developing and implementing controversial surveillance methods.
I do not think Edward Snowden was justified in what he did and I base that on three main points. The first point is that Snowden acted illegally. We can cite various laws and statutes that Snowden broke when stealing government information, fleeing the country, and handing over this sensitive information to journalists with the intention of making it public. On top of this, he violated the oath taken when being granted a security clearance to protect the information that had been entrusted to him.
The second point is that Edward Snowden damaged national security. I would argue that he turned over potentially damaging information to journalists who are less technologically and security savvy. This is clearly demonstrated by the incident when a journalist released a slide without properly redacting information detailing U.S. efforts against the terrorist organization that later became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. There is also the case of the former CIA Director James Woolsey and examples he gave of three programs now rendered defunct due to the leaks. It is a difficult point to argue because organizations that have been damaged do not want to reveal even more information about their operations and potential setbacks to enemies.
A third point is that Snowden’s leaks created significant harms without any real benefits. Snowden believed the government was using its power to secretly violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. Snowden’s intention was to leak the information to reveal the surveillance methods to the American public, hoping that this would facilitate a change to these practices. I would argue that in the end these boons to democracy have not come to pass. There is currently no active legislation on the floor in Congress addressing online privacy. The government still keeps files and collects bulk metadata, and there has been no change in the FISA courts system. One can not justify Snowden’s actions through the benefits they created because these benefits do not exist. I would impress upon the reader that the world of intelligence works in the darks and deals in secrets, which when often brought to the light are not pretty, but they work.
Many have argued that without much legal protection for whistleblowers, Snowden acted justly and the only way he could in the face of a law he considered unjust. In the end, beyond justifying Snowden, the continuing debate is how far we are willing to extend the government’s power to ensure security.