02 July 2013

More on L'affaire Snowden

I have opinions on L'affaire Snowden which depart from what I imagine to be the "progressive norm," that I think of as somewhat kneejerk. 

I am as opposed as the next liberal to warrantless surveillance and illegal search and seizure of Americans' information and communications without probable cause, and I supported the civil disobedience qua civil disobedience of Edward Snowden on that issue at the outset. But he has gone well beyond that, and I can think of no honorable basis to seek asylum in Russia, which is unquestionably worse in all these respects than the US. (Putin even referred to the surveillance Snowden revealed as having taken place here as "normal". They certainly do it, and worse). I suspect the Russians are actually very uncomfortable with this guy and will treat him more or less as under house arrest if he ends up staying there. And my sympathy for the notion that the US trying to get other countries not to grant him asylum is somehow a violation of his human rights is zero. He, or anyone having knowingly violated laws on principle (which is what civil disobedience is) must expect the state to try to come down on him; and in fact, if he were really as noble as he claims, he would not have put data in his possession, that apparently went well beyond the civil liberties issues which were the rationale for his actions, in jeopardy of coming into the possession of foreign governments. (Best estimation: that's exactly what happened). After all, it's not just an issue of the US overstepping constitutional authority, where there clearly is justification to what he revealed. He also has access to, and data concerning, sources and methods and legitimate foreign intelligence that, as someone sworn to preserve secrecy, he is legitimately charged as a criminal if he reveals. Which he apparently has done.

So, I have gone from celebrating his revelations to regarding him as a bit of a rogue element, who has overstepped any reasonable expectation of support from the American populace, and who has no realistic basis to expect not to be prosecuted by the American government if it is able to get custody of him. And he should expect that they will take all legal steps, including pressuring other governments not to help him, to achieve that.

All in all, I think it's really unfortunate that Snowden, who seems to have more than a streak of narcissism, was the one to focus attention on PRISM and all of the degradation of the 4th Amendment that has occurred. His revelations, of course, were not really new, they were a filling in of detail and a refocusing on the fact that in the wake of the unconstitutional PATRIOT act, the US government has been violating the 4th and 5th amendments against its own citizens wholesale, and still is. This is a serious issue that I'm worried the somewhat tawdry end of this affair will allow to be simply swept under the rug. And that's really, really unfortunate, because it's supremely important that constitutional civil liberties protections be defended and restored. If anything, the full unfolding of this affair may well make that less likely. And that's a tragedy.

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