The Internet is divided as to the character of Edward Snowden. Is he a reckless traitor? The champion of government transparency? Could he be a lunatic with visions of dramatic espionage? Or is he just a morally outraged Average Joe? The Internet, and maybe even the United States, are divided on these points.
Before the U.S. government has even had time to assess how much damage Snowden's leak of confidential NSA information will cause, social and digital media are abuzz with voices from both sides calling for either his pardon or his imprisonment.
Here are the arguments. You decide.
Snowden the Hero
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) June 9, 2013
Last week, Edward Snowden released documents that proved the government collects mass amounts of information about phone calls and internet use both in and out of the United States. Although it has yet to be determined, many find this to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment which prevents the U.S. Government from searching through the possessions or "papers" of a citizen without suspicion of law-breaking validated by a judge.
Famous leftists like Michael Moore and Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the story, are portraying him as a saint, motivated to his deed by an ideological purity usually reserved for speaking about Gandhi and maybe rightfully so. President Obama said in a statement recently that every member of Congress was informed of this program numerous times and yet, not one informed the public. The New York Times' Editorial Board wrote:
Essentially, the administration is saying that without any individual suspicion of wrongdoing, the government is allowed to know whom Americans are calling every time they make a phone call, for how long they talk and from where. This sort of tracking can reveal a lot of personal and intimate information about an individual. To casually permit this surveillance — with the American public having no idea that the executive branch is now exercising this power — fundamentally shifts power between the individual and the state, and it repudiates constitutional principles governing search, seizure and privacy.
As I write this, before Snowden has been officially charged with anything, a petition on whitehouse.gov calling for Snowden's presidential pardon is reaching 30,000 signatures in around 24 hours.
Snowden the Traitor
It goes without saying that members of the government have been quick to call him a traitor, or as Republican Representative from New York Pete King called him, a "defector" because Snowden fled to Hong Kong just as hostility between the United States and China are mounting in the wake of multiple cyber attacks.
Although he has not yet been charged, it is clear that Snowden has violated numerous laws the least of which is the Espionage Act specifically 18 USC § 793 which reads:
Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it
Whether Snowden will be charged with more than a violation of the Espionage Act will be determined by the government and dependent on how harmful to national security and intelligence operations the leak proves to be. There is a chance they will charge him with aiding enemies of the United States.
I view Mr. Snowdens’ actions not as one of patriotism but potentially a felony.
— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) June 10, 2013
Snowden the Misguided Loner
Then there are those like The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin whose's article says that Snowden is neither a "hero" nor a "traitor." Toobin merely states that Snowden is a "grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison."
Toobin's piece portrays Snowden as a reckless ego maniac who did not think his leak through before distributing classified documents. He writes:
What makes leak cases difficult is that some leaking—some interaction between reporters and sources who have access to classified information—is normal, even indispensable, in a society with a free press. It’s not easy to draw the line between those kinds of healthy encounters and the wholesale, reckless dumping of classified information by the likes of Snowden or Bradley Manning. Indeed, Snowden was so irresponsible in what he gave the Guardian and the Post that even these institutions thought some of it should not be disseminated to the public. The Post decided to publish only four of the forty-one slides that Snowden provided. Its exercise of judgment suggests the absence of Snowden’s.
United States citizens deserve to know that our government is collecting all of our phone and internet data, and with the discovery that Congress members have all been informed and yet said nothing, it is important that someone made on a stand on behalf of civilians. However, some reports about his character and life do seem a little disconcerting. His reputation as a "loner" by those who knew him, as well as his self-proclaimed title as a "spook" and the statement, "I've been a spy almost all of my adult life" all shed a rather absurd light on the scenario.
Why it Matters
The Obama administration will be particularly invested in this public opinion battle. If a good portion of Americans, especially the left wing, see Snowden as a hero then Obama will have a hard time prosecuting him without loosing the support of his base. Barack Obama must retain all of the support he can in light of these discoveries and his already questionable reputation for infringing civil liberties.