“Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.“
The Telegraph published this statement from Edward Snowden, which was provided by WikiLeaks in mid-July of 2013–a little over one month after United States authorities brought charges against Snowden that included espionage and theft of government property. These charges resulted from Snowden’s utilization of his position as a contractor for the National Security Agency to leak hundreds of classified NSA documents to news outlets such as The Guardian and The Washington Post.
Among a number of things, the documents most prominently revealed that the NSA has been intercepting and monitoring the communications that many American citizens consider to be “private.” As Snowden states in a Q&A with The Guardian, “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
The weight of these charges against the NSA are clearly just as heavy, if not heavier, than the charges that have been brought against Snowden. Snowden has since evaded American authorities by seeking temporary political asylum in Russia, and the general public has since displayed a deeply mixed reaction to Snowden’s actions as a whistle-blower. Many have called him a traitor to his country, but many have also deemed him a true American patriot acting in the best interest of his fellow Americans. After all, it isn’t difficult to draw unsettling comparisons between the surveillance tactics of the NSA and those of Big Brother, the totalitarian government featured in George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984. Why wouldn’t American citizens want to know if they are being watched? Why wouldn’t they want to know if their privacy is being invaded? Or if their Constitutional rights are possibly being violated?
Most importantly, what could push Edward Snowden, an American citizen with a comfortable living, a well-paying job, and a self-proclaimed sense of patriotism, to give up his life in America? What could push him to run the risk of never seeing his friends, family, or home, ever again?
After all, Snowden does seem to love his country. A New York Times article published in June delves deep into Snowden’s adolescence and years of young adulthood. Snowden apparently grew up with a relatively healthy family life. He was a “computer wizard” from an early age, and during his high school years, his love for computers brought him closer to a group of people with a similar passion for that technology. One person in that group claimed that Snowden was just “a geek like the rest of us.”
Snowden’s sense of patriotism showed through his enlistment in the U.S. Army not too long after he passed the G.E.D. Although he didn’t stick with the Army for all too long, Snowden’s computer skills continued to pay off for him when, years later, he secured an information technology job at the C.I.A. In 2009, he moved on to the NSA as a contract employee. This is when Snowden began gaining high-level access to the confidential secrets that he would later spill to the nation. Before then, he didn’t seem like he was all too different from any other citizen of America.
In that case, if a seemingly relatable American citizen such as Edward Snowden was able to completely sacrifice his decently comfortable lifestyle in the great nation that he calls home, he likely had a good reason for doing so. He must have been so disturbed by the information that he came across, that he felt no other option than to do something drastic as a response. He couldn’t excuse it. He couldn’t justify it to himself. He couldn’t turn his back on it. He couldn’t claim that it was somebody else’s responsibility to do something about it. He couldn’t let it go, and so he couldn’t let it keep on going.
Now, because of Snowden’s actions, the American public is aware that its government has been capable of spying on its own citizens. Let us assume that this is the case, as it is clearly always important to question even the most seemingly concrete information. Assuming that this disturbing information is all true, there is one more question that begs to be asked. If Edward Snowden really is just another one of us, and he gave up his life in America because he believes that we need to know this disturbing information–what are we actually doing about it? We’re certainly talking about it. We’re reading about it. We’re thinking about it. But, is that enough? Snowden gave up his entire life as he knew it to do what he considered “the right thing.” If we consider what he did “right,” then why aren’t we doing the same?
Maybe it’s because we don’t know enough about it. Or because we don’t know where to start. Who wants another Occupy Wall Street, after all? Maybe it’s because it’s somebody else’s responsibility to take more drastic action. Somebody will eventually, right? Or maybe we just don’t have time this week, but we’ll get to it the next week. Or the week after. Maybe we don’t have any time at all, with our constantly busy schedules. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t really affect us on an individual level, so why should we care? Maybe we don’t mind that our privacy is being invaded, anyway. Do we really have anything to hide?
Maybe we do. We have our comfortable lives. Our great American dreams. It’s perfectly possible that we simply just don’t want to give those liberties up. So, if Edward Snowden seemed to be just another one of us, then why was he able to?
Maybe Snowden came to the harsh realization that without action, those liberties might not even be his own to give up anymore.