Edward Snowden

by Admin 4. February 2014 17:33

Saint or Sinner?


The articles, blog posts, tweets and other things which have been written about what Edward Snowden did and about him generally can broadly be divided into two camps. The first camp believe that he is the embodiment of evil, bent upon the destruction of western society and in league with the enemy, whoever that may be this week. The second camp sees him as a saviour who has exposed the corruption and Orwellian evil of our governments and that he has sacrificed himself for our freedom.

So which of these views is right, or do you naturally just believe one or other of these views depending upon your place in society. Clearly if you work for the security services, or just in information security for that matter then the first camp is for you and if you tend to spend your time protesting about global warming and reading about how the CIA assassinated Kennedy then you are in camp two.

I for my part would like to offer a third option which I shall refer to, in an attempt to irritate everyone, as the reasonable middle ground. So, let’s get started by restating the obvious.

Snowden released highly confidential documents about what the US and indeed other security services were doing around surveillance of their own and foreign citizens. It has been amusing to read how the various citizens of the countries involved believe that it is OK to spy on foreigners but not to spy on their own people. An opportunity for countries to work together to ensure everyone is equally spied upon does suggest itself, but let’s move on. Why were national security services doing all this spying? Well the short answer is that there are plenty of bad people in the world who wish to do bad things. Spying on them allows governments to stop those bad things before they happen. Excellent, that all seems very reasonable. Well done our governments.

What constitutes a bad thing? Terrorism and murder certainly. Very bad, no one wants that; unless they are freedom fighters supported by us of course. Even that is beginning to become a little unpopular as we get to see those wars where poor oppressed foreigners fight to free themselves from their oppressors on TV and it turns out that they are just as brutal as the government troops. Very tricky moral dilemmas there…

What about when bad people seek to bring down governments? Getting a little tricky now isn’t it as we do that during elections every four or five years. But bringing them down outside of that democratic process, that is very bad. What if they are seeking to bring them down through lawful democratic processes? Perhaps replace them with a different sort of government. Or perhaps the people wish to expose wrong doing by the government? Well, we are pretty sure where the line is. All right minded people know the difference between right and wrong.

Except we don’t. We have different opinions and those opinions shift over time depending upon the collective and individual experience. The same goes for the people who make these decisions within government and within the security services. People lose their way and do things that other parts of society are not comfortable with. Governments change. Very few governments are born corrupt, they become corrupt over time. Liberty is seldom lost all at once, it happens slowly and assiduously and those people who see it happening and cry out tend to loose theirs faster than the rest of us.

Of course in this high tech world we need to protect ourselves for the bad people but we need to both set limits and stick to them regarding what our governments are doing. And that is the crucial phrase. These are our governments. They are not separate things which exist outside of our societies. People get the governments they deserve. If you allow the people to whom you lend power to abuse you whilst you do nothing then there is no one waiting to save you.

Whether you think that Snowden is good or bad is not the question any more. The question has become one about the behaviour of the governments we elect. It is time for us to decide what kind of society we wish to live in. And if our governments behave badly perhaps it is time to change them, more fundamentally than just electing the usual opposition. Let’s see how this turns out.

Let’s hope that it isn’t too late.

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