Thursday, June 13, 2013

Defining Patriotism and Privacy in a Digital Age...

Press reports on both sides of the Atlantic have  been full of  stories about the revelations of American National Security "whistle blower"  Edward Snowden .

Snowden, a former U.S. Intelligence analyst,  spilled  the beans to the UK newspaper The Guardian, on  how  the US National Security Agency monitors electronic communications  all over the world in its efforts to thwart terrorism.    In a recent interview,  Snowden explained his motives.

Over here  in London,  the government has been quick to  say to anyone with a microphone that  civil liberties  of people living int he UK  were not violated, and "appropriate safeguards"  were in place at all times.   Uh... okay.   They of course can't say what those safeguards actaully are,  because  that's...  you know...  secret n' stuff.   

Meanwhile  back in the  United States, the same folks who were all for spying on pretty much everyone in the name of  "homeland security" back during the Bush Administration  are now,  ( wait for it....) "shocked and deeply concerned" over  what the government has been doing!

I'll be honest,  I have always just assumed  that in a post 9-11 world, the government was monitoring  everybody,  and  using PRISM, or  whatever the system is called to  search for keywords,  I.P. addresses and  suspicious activity  between people with known or  possible links to terror groups.  And I realize I am going to horrify my libertarian friends when I say...  I am pretty much okay with that...   I know  many of you  right now are screaming the  Ben Franklin quote about  liberty and safety  at  your computer screens  and  wondering why  I am not more worried about  this intrusion on our right to privacy.

Let's be clear,  I never said I wasn't worried about it,  I never said I liked it.   I am saying I have accepted it as a necessary evil.  And yes, there needs to be clear and full congressional oversight of these programs to ensure the needed safeguards for  civil liberties.  I would remind folks that  it was  the Bush Administration's lack of interest in  intercepted "chatter"  that was at least partly responsible for America being caught unaware and unprepared for the attacks of September 2001.    

Which is why, even though  I may not be joining the call to storm the NSA with pitchforks and torches.  Yet at the same time,   I also am not ready to agree with those  who say  Edward Snowden, and the American Journalist Genn Greenwald,  (who broke his story),  are traitors.  Clearly  Snowden, (rightly or wrongly)  felt  that there were not adequate safeguards or  oversight structures in place  at the NSA  to protect the civil  liberties of  all the people who's emails, phone calls, and  web usage is being monitored.  

It is very easy to side with the argument that  "if you have nothing to hide,  this shouldn't bother you..."  and there is a certain logic to that,  yet   the flip side of that  argument is the issue of privacy.   Don't we all have the right NOT to have our lives examined by total strangers?   I'll  say  what bothers me the  most  in that interview with Snowden,  is the revelation that wasn't the Government  was possibly reading my email, but rather  Booz Allen Hamilton, a private corporation that  was doing all this, as a Government contractor.    

Am I saying I trust  the  Government more than I trust a private company?  Yeah, pretty much.    The Tea Party may think government is the problem,  but the sheer lack of accountability Snowden describes is pretty unsettling.   

So  what about the question of Patriotism here?  Are Snowden and Greenwald  traitors?   Well, motives aside,  Snowden is a criminal.   He broke the law. And Glenn Greenwald, aided and abetted that criminal activity  We can, and many will,  argue the nobility of  their  reasons, and  even argue over the right or wrong nature of the laws they  broke,  but  the fact remains,  they did break the law.     The real question is;  have they  put the country, or  any person, other than themselves  in danger because of  their actions?   If you listen to voices on the poltical right in the  United States,  you would certainly think so.

Fox News  certainly  has it's own ideological  tint on all this,  but  it raises the question,  are Snowden and Greenwald  heroes who have struck a blow for  all of our civil liberties,  or are they traitors who have but the lives of Americans and  National Security at risk.   You can  make a very convincing case for both.  Yet it is worth noting,  Fox News had no problem with  the outing of CIA Agent  Valerie Plame Wilson, by the Bush Administration,  and never once asked if  Scooter Libby and his boss,  Vice President Dick Cheney should be charged with Treason. 

An interesting  side story to all this,  is  the background of the Journalist who broke the story.   Glenn Greenwald .  He is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian Newspaper . A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. He is the author two recent books, highly critical of the use of executive power and the Patriot Act,  by the Bush Administration.  

Another interesting fact about  Greenwald, who is Gay,  is he also is living in DOMA  (Defense of Marriage Act)  Exile.   He was forced to move to Brazil because his relationship with his Brazilian partner is not recognized by the U.S. Federal Government for immigration purposes.   Greenwald and his partner were recently profiled by  OUT Magazine where they told their story..

"Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly 'free,' liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition," says Greenwald, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act with the disdain he typically shows for policies he believes are eroding Americans' freedoms. Greenwald's attacks on the powerful make him a tempting target for reprisals. So it's no surprise that, soon after he started blogging, critics sometimes tried to out him in a game of "gotcha." But what upset Greenwald was the implication that he had been closeted in the first place. "There was nothing to out," he says. "I've been as out as I can be since I was 20."

CNN's Christiane Amanpour also featured Greenwald on her program

A Canadian friend of mine here in London  asked me an interesting question yesterday;  Did I think that  having to live as a DOMA Exile  may have colored Greenwald's  attitudes towards the U.S. Government,  in  a way where he maybe didn't  look as critically at the impact of breaking this story, as he might have otherwise?   In other words  did I think Greenwald might have taken some personal satisfaction  in punishing the Government that currently is treating him as  2nd class citizen, and his partner as non-existent?    I  don't have access to Greenwald's though process so I can't answer that.  However,   I will be honest enough to say it's possible.

Like most Americans,  I want the U.S. Government to do what is necessary to keep people safe and to thwart  potential threats.  These recent revelations  give  the American People a chance to examine and perhaps more clearly define  what  "doing what is necessary" actually entails.    In the meantime,  both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald  may well be thinking of another famous quote from Benjamin Franklin...

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