Edward Snowden, Man of the Year

First pub­lished at RT Op-Edge.

When asked if Edward Snowden deserves to be the Man of the Year 2013, and I have been many times, my answer has to be a cat­egor­ic­al, resound­ing YES.

Sure, it has been an event­ful year and there are a lot of con­tenders. But Edward Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons:  his per­son­al and con­scious cour­age, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures and the con­tinu­ing, glob­al impact of what he did. Purely because of his actions we, the world’s cit­izens, are now able to have a dis­cus­sion about the nature of our civil­isa­tion and poten­tially call a halt to the fright­en­ing slide into a glob­al sur­veil­lance dysto­pia.

For the actions of Snowden have indeed laid bare the fact that we are liv­ing glob­al crisis of civil­isa­tion .  To date it is estim­ated the we have only seen about 1% of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed —  the merest hint of the tip of a mon­strous ice­berg.  What fur­ther hor­rors await us in 2014 and bey­ond?

The Per­son­al Risk

First of all, there is the per­son­al aspect.  Snowden has said that he does not want to be the story, he wants the focus to remain on the inform­a­tion.  I respect that, but it is worth remind­ing ourselves of the scale of sac­ri­fice this young man has made.  He had a well-paid job in Hawaii, an appar­ently happy rela­tion­ship, and good career pro­spects. All this he threw away to alert the world to the secret, illeg­al and dysto­pi­an sur­veil­lance sys­tem that has stealth­ily been smoth­er­ing the world.

But Snowden faced far more than merely throw­ing away a com­fort­able pro­fes­sion­al life. Over the last few years the US gov­ern­ment, appar­ently learn­ing well from its former colo­ni­al mas­ter the UK about the art of crush­ing of whis­tleblowers, has been waging a war against what it now deems the “insider threat” — ie per­sons of con­science who speak out. Pres­id­ent Obama has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) to per­se­cute and pro­sec­ute more whis­tleblowers than all pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents in total before him.

This is indeed a “war on whis­tleblowers”. John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who refused to par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture pro­gramme and then exposed, it is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in pris­on; Thomas Drake, an earli­er NSA whis­tleblower, was threatened with 35 years in pris­on; young Chelsea Man­ning was mal­treated in pris­on, faced a kangaroo court, and is cur­rently serving a sim­il­ar sen­tence for the expos­ure of hideous war crimes against civil­ians in the Middle East. And the list goes on.

So not only did Edward Snowden turn his back on his career, he knew exactly the sheer scale of the leg­al risk he was tak­ing when he went pub­lic, dis­play­ing bravery very much above and bey­ond the call of duty.

The intel­li­gence apo­lo­gists in the media have inev­it­ably  shouted “nar­ciss­ism” about his brave step to out him­self, rather than just leak the inform­a­tion anonym­ously.  How­ever, these estab­lish­ment wind­bags are the real nar­ciss­ists. Snowden cor­rectly assessed that, had he not put his name to the dis­clos­ures, there would have been a witch-hunt tar­get­ing his former col­leagues and he wanted to pro­tect them. Plus, as he said in his very first pub­lic inter­view, he wanted to explain why he had done what he had done and what the implic­a­tions were for the world.

The Dis­clos­ures

The sheer scale and nature of the dis­clos­ures so far has been breath­tak­ing, and they just keep com­ing. They show that a vast, sub­ter­ranean sur­veil­lance state that has crept across the whole world, unknown and unchecked by the very politi­cians who are sup­posed to hold it to account. Indeed, not only have we learned that we are all under con­stant elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, but these politi­cians are tar­geted too. This is a glob­al secret state run­ning amok and we are all now tar­gets.

Only yes­ter­day, Der Spiegel repor­ted more egre­gious examples of how the spies bug us: hard­ware hacks, com­puter vir­uses and even microwave wavelengths attack­ing both our com­puters and us – tin foil hats might not be such a bad idea after all.…

The Implic­a­tions

Snowden’s dis­clos­ures have laid bare the fact that the inter­net has been thor­oughly hacked, sub­ver­ted and indeed mil­it­ar­ised against we the people.  The basic free­dom of pri­vacy,  enshrined in the UN Declar­a­tion of Human Rights in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Second World War, has been des­troyed.

Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidu­al cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments, and cer­tainly not a shad­owy and unac­count­able secret state.

The cent­ral soci­et­al func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the state.

By risk­ing his life, Edward Snowden has allowed us all to see exactly the scale of the threat now facing us and to allow us the oppor­tun­ity to res­ist.  We all owe him a debt of grat­it­ude, and it is our duty to ensure that his cour­age and sac­ri­fice has not been in vain.

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