One thing is for certain, the recent bombshell revelation about the NSA and its PRISM program has gotten everyone talking. The amazing part is that this issue doesn't break down along party lines, like is the case with much of the policies we discuss. That speaks to the complexity of balancing our civil liberties with security, big government versus invasive government.
As an isolated practice, I can understand why many people feel that the NSA's activities are justified and necessary in order to keep Americans safe in a 21st century society. But the reality is that we have to look at the recent revelations in context. There are two big contexts to consider.
The first is the recent flurry of scandals swirling around Washington. From Benghazi, to the IRS, to the spying on the media, to the ObamaCare shakedown of private companies, what has become clear is that big-government is out of control and that this administration is not to be trusted. Even the Associated Press pointed this out today: “Collectively, the issues call into question not only whether the nation's government can be trusted but also whether the leadership itself can. All of this has Obama on the verge of losing the already waning faith of the American people.” For example, an administration that blamed Benghazi on a YouTube video is now to be trusted when they tell us that no one is listening on our conversations? Are we now supposed to trust the same government that originally told us that the IRS targeting of conservatives was isolated to a few, low-level rogue employees in Cincinnati? Do you see why people may suddenly be skeptical when they learn that the government has the power to spy on literally every aspect of your life? I would maintain that while it is the Obama administration that has expanded the scope of data collection, we should be weary of any government with this kind of power.
The second piece we have to consider is the recent intelligence failures. The Boston Bombing is the obvious example that comes to mind. If this intrusive level of data aggregation is necessary to keep us safe, how is it possible that the government missed the threat of the Tzarnaev brothers, especially considering that Tamerlan was on the radar of the intelligence community? What about Nidal Hassan, the underwear bomber or the Times Square bomber? If people can justify the actions of the NSA, can we at least have the discussion about whether its even effective? Many people are pointing to the foiled terror plot to blow up the New York subway system but that has been debunked, attributed to good police work and not the result of NSA data intelligence.
Now about this whistleblower … Over the weekend we learned the identity of the person responsible for revealing this information about the NSA's PRISM program. His name is Edward Snowden and he's 29 years old. At the time of his disclosure, he worked as a government contractor at the NSA. Before that, he was a high school dropout who earned his GED, he served in the military and used to be a technical assistant for the CIA. The reason he revealed this information – sacrificing his girlfriend, family and career – is as follows: "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building." He says that he is not afraid of the punishment likely awaiting him from the US government, “because this is the choice I've made.” The power he claims to have had is pretty unbelievable, including the power to target anyone, anytime, anywhere.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of debate surrounding Snowden. Here are just some of the questions to consider ...
Do you consider him a hero or a traitor?
Do you think that the government has a case against him, charging him with treason under the Espionage Act?
Do you think his actions have jeopardized American security?
Do you feel Snowden went about disclosing this program in the right way, going to the media instead of to Congress or an IG?
Do you think it was right for him to leave the country and go to Hong Kong?
Does he have a legitimate reason to be concerned about whistleblower protections, considering the way the Obama administration has gone after other whistleblowers?
Should he be forced to return to the United States and answer for his actions?
Should this guy even have had this type of access to this information?
Clearly, there are a lot of facets to this debate that we will discuss in due time. Right now we have everything from Rep. Peter King saying we should prosecute Snowden to the fullest extent of the law to a White House petition demanding that Snowden be pardoned. We also had Rand Paul over the weekend say that he is going to try and get enough signatures to file a class-action lawsuit before the Supreme Court on the issue of expansive government tracking. Either way, the Obama administration is already working on their case against Snowden. This is only the beginning of a very large debate about the role of government in our lives.