Edward Snowden and The Common Defense Of Privacy

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm


Edward Snowden is the U.S. citizen allegedly hiding somewhere in Hong Kong after he announced concerns about the intelligence community’s surveillance practices.  For him, he stated that he “…certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail.”

With the question of legal or technical authority aside, the larger question becomes, is Snowden’s announcement just; did he “do the right thing”?  Should Snowden be himself subject to prosecution for violating national security?  Then again, he has not thus far disclosed specific details of whom he has investigated; he has merely stated capabilities.  Stating that the United States possesses nuclear armaments capable of wreaking widespread environmental and biological harm is a statement of fact.  How these devices work is another matter altogether.  Has Snowden disclosed specific details on how PRISM works?  In reply, companies such as Google are following up by requesting the U.S. government be more forthcoming on explaining Snowden’s allegations.

The root of what has happened today dates back to the enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 which provided statutory authority for the creation of the specialized Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).  One recent news report points out that the FISC has rejected a mere .03%  of government intelligence requests.

Another report laments not only Snowden’s disclosures but also the fact that core intelligence functions are being outsourced in general but specifically to individuals like Snowden who is “a high school dropout.”  Issues of justice abound here.  Has Snowden disclosed anything we do not already know — that is, that the government is watching us?  Moreover, with the amorphous nature of the Internet, how can any intelligence agency distinguish between domestic and foreign email accounts or web traffic in general?  Would it be based on the street address the user has registered, the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the computer sending or receiving the information?  How exactly do we determine what’s foreign and what’s not when it comes to the Internet?

After 9/11, there was great criticism towards the government that it wasn’t doing its job, and what happened was attributed to “intelligence failures” and a lack of coordination among government agencies.  Now, the news media trend appears to be not that government hasn’t done enough but is instead doing too much.  Where can one find justice here?  Justice for Snowden, who is facing likely criminal prosecution; administering justice by “providing for the common defense” and protecting national security; and also by preserving individual privacy.

We must not forget those words from the U.S. Constitution in which the Founders declared among its six core purposes, that it is intended “to establish justice.”  The question asked here, again and again, is how to establish justice again and again, by its true and due administration.  Perhaps the answer will change based upon the decider’s role; the role of this blog is to ask, to observe, and to opine.

Yet, what does one do when the lofty task “to provide for the common defense” conflicts with that “to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…”?  Should one ever outweigh the other?  Indeed, it was Benjamin Franklin who once wrote, “Those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  Yet, what if the subsequent safety is not small, nor temporary at all — what then?


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