In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former employee of the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA), shocked the world with his revelations of widescale spying being conducted by the US Government. Snowden was instantly catapulted into worldwide fame, and has become known as the quintessential whisteblower. Since the enormous revelations have been made, many have supported Snowden. Yet others have heavily criticised his decision to blow the whistle – going as far as to suggest he is a ‘traitor’. In this article, we take a look at this classic debate.
Edward Snowden was born in 1983. After working for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Dell, Snowden was hired by Booz Allen Hamilton – a well-known contractor for the NSA. He eventually left the company in May 2013. A matter of weeks later, Snowden revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists – with the revelations being subsequently picked up by worldwide news outlets. Snowden had already fled the US by this point, with American authorities in turn launching a manhunt. Snowden is currently holed up in a secret location in Russia, having been granted asylum there. Should Snowden ever return to the US, it is inevitable that he would face a life in jail. His revelations caused worldwide interest. Ever since then, a debate has raged on as to whether or not Snowden’s act was heroic or traitorous.
Many people laud Snowden as an ‘American Hero’. When releasing the classified information, Snowden knew the act would mean he could never realistically return to the US. This meant he was leaving his entire life behind – family, friends and a well-paid job. This is a big commitment to make. Many point to the fact that his act was therefore selfless – putting himself at risk for the good of others. There is also the fact that he will forever be hunted by the US – it was a decision that he will have to live with for the rest of his days. Snowden suggested the releasing of information was in the interest of the public – it could be argued he sacrificed himself for the good of everyone else. Many have suggested the spying conducted by the US Government was ‘unconstitutional’ – and that without Snowden, they would’ve never known what was happening.
Yet for some, Snowden’s actions amounted to treason. The privacy versus security argument often rears its head. While many suggest privacy is more important, there is an age-old riposte; if someone has nothing to hide, why should they be worried at surveillance? Others have suggested he was seeking publicity, while others have compared him to Julian Assange. Moreover, there is a profound concern in the contemporary age regarding terrorism. If increasing surveillance is what it takes to save thousands of lives – then isn’t surveillance a necessary evil? Another argument against Snowden is that there are thousands of Government employees who stay loyal in their job position, knowing sensitive information they access is a matter of national security. They remain loyal, while Snowden opted not to.
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Both arguments put forward are compelling. Debates like this are never going to draw a conclusive opinion, making them notoriously difficult to draw conclusions from. Both sides of the argument have good points to them – it eventually comes down to someone’s personal opinion on the case. Whenever the question regarding security versus privacy arises, Snowden’s case will forever be discussed. One thing is certain – Snowden’s revelations have made a profound impact on the world, it is questionable though as to whether or not this was a good or a bad thing.