, Salem, MA


August 6, 2013

Column: Edward Snowden deserves begrudging gratitude


Furthermore, many American citizens of a certain age have an appreciation for whistle-blowers in the tradition of Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 revealed the mendacity and corruption behind the Vietnam War. It’s not clear that Snowden has risen to Ellsberg’s level, but many Americans still have trouble condemning him as an outright traitor.

Nevertheless, let’s try to keep our consternation under control and in tune with the realities of the situation. We may not like the idea that the government is collecting data on our private communications, but it doesn’t really have a choice, does it?

For example, last week the U.S. State Department issued a global travel alert to American citizens and closed more than 20 diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa because of security concerns based on intercepted electronic communications among al-Qaida operatives that indicated attacks could be imminent.

What would spark much more outrage than Snowden’s revelations would be the discovery that the government had failed to prevent a terrorist attack by neglecting communications that could be accessible to any second-rate hacker.

In any case, our consternation over governmental data mining is ironic. Our era may be the most “confessional” ever. People will say anything on TV and publish the most intimate details of their lives on Facebook and Twitter. Politicians and celebrities readily post snapshots of their anatomies on the Internet for all to see. And then we’re shocked when we discover that anyone is actually looking or listening.

The term “new normal” is probably overused to describe all the bad things that are happening these days. But circumstances have changed since Franklin’s day. The monitoring of our use of cellphones and the Internet is probably inevitable in the interest of security. Judicial oversight is essential, and so is transparency. We should at least know that data mining is happening. And for that, I guess, we have Edward Snowden to thank.


John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Email Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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