With the advent of the Internet it is now easier than ever to become famous. YouTube stars are born nearly overnight. Some people are famous simply by association, others stay in the limelight for all of the wrong reasons like sex scandals and drugs. Essentially everyone is a good hashtag or Instagram account away from stardom.
It is some wonder, then, why a man who changed the tone of the past decade, and ushered in discussion that we will be having for the next decade- if not much longer- is still on the fringes of the average netizen’s consciousness. Edward Snowden is the sole person responsible for bringing about this paramount change in internet culture. Yet too many people don’t know who he is, or what he has done. To put it in the most simplest of terms: because of him we are able to have a discussion about a subject that just 3 years ago sounded ludicrous.
How little people know (even millenials- maybe even especially millenials) of Edward Snowden (if they are aware of him at all) bewilders me as well. Because what we are talking about when it comes to mass surveillance, privacy online, and protecting personal data affects every single person. The biggest argument against my line of thinking is: if you aren’t doing anything illegal then you have nothing to worry about with privacy, surveillance, and anonymity. If this is your train of thought, my friend, then I encourage you to read my 3 part series on What is Privacy (part 1, part 2, part 3). You will soon learn that privacy affects you, even if you don’t know it.
Why Snowden Should be a Household Name
The truth is, there are numerous reasons to know who Edward Snowden is. If you don’t know who he is then please allow this to be your introduction. I am certain that once you learn what he has done, and the repercussions of his actions you will want to know more. Here are three reasons- in no particular order- that Edward Snowden should be a household name.
1.) Snowden saw something happening that he thought the American people should at least know about and spoke up. I hate to bore you with a definition but according to Oxford Dictionary a whistleblower is “a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity.” Which is exactly what Snowden did: in May of this year the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the mass surveillance that Snowden had exposed as illegal and unconstitutional.
He also did this task in the most responsible avenue that he had available. He gave the documents that he got from his job as a contractor with the NSA to respected journalists who could make sound determinations about the sensitivity of each document before being released.
Despite what some people, I’m looking at you, Hillary Clinton, want you to believe Snowden would not have legally been seen as a whistleblower. If he would have gone through the ‘proper’ channels not only would he not be legally protected but also persecuted. Even those that are protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act were targeted by the government when they raised concerns through the proposed channels that Hillary Clinton and others mention.
2.) If he hadn’t obtained those documents the world will still be in the dark. Since Snowden released the thousands of pages he got from NSA databases in 2013, including Powerpoints and top secret documents much has come to light that the world didn’t know was going on. Clandestine programs that tapped into domestic phone calls, the ability to use microphones and cameras on devices remotely, and dragnet surveillance that captured an unheard of amount of information all came to surface. With the release of Snowden’s documents Big Brother from the novel 1984 by George Orwell came to life.
His documents also revealed that the surveillance captured data both foreign and domestic. As information continues to be released periodically the public learns more about the disregard for privacy that not only the NSA in the US has, but also the UK’s equivalent, GCHQ. Even world leaders- even leaders of our allies like Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany- were not above being spied on.
3.) Even though the general public doesn’t know whom he is and he’s essentially exiled in Russia, he’s still fighting for your privacy. In Russia of all places, Snowden still takes it upon himself to push governments to embrace their citizens’ privacy. Since his fateful decision, Edward Snowden has been seen making appearances by video all over the world- and sometimes, a live interview in Russia.
Snowden has graciously accepted awards, appeared on TedTalks, and recently announced a new initiative to take the protection of privacy to the next step. Just over a month ago Snowden and key supporters announced the International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers; also known as the Snowden Treaty. If successful in getting nations to sign on the new treaty will go a long way in restoring and protecting the basic human right of privacy that has been eroded over the past decades.
Edward Snowden nearly single-handedly exposed a colossal problem in government surveillance and jumpstarted- and continues to mold- the conversation about our privacy. Snowden shows no signs of slowing down: and with a recent resolution by the European Parliament to offer a helping hand to him, why should he. Last week in clear “recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender.” The European Parliament voted to push member states to, “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection, and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties.” Whether you see Snowden as a traitor, a hero, or even both there is no doubt that he committed a service to the public by exposing the egregious overreach of agencies like the NSA and GCHQ.