I do not come to praise Edward Snowden, but to pardon him — or at least, to suggest that President Barack Obama do so, if and when he is charged. Even if Snowden has committed crimes, he has done his country, and free people everywhere, a service.
There is heated debate as to whether Snowden is a hero or a villain. Having leaked particulars of the National Security Agency’s information-gathering program, the former CIA employee has given those who would condemn or canonize him much to consider.
He has a hero’s bravery, inasmuch as he opted to follow his conscience and forgo a normal life, honking off the most powerful government on Earth in the process. Conversely, there is some measure of villainy in being given the confidence of an intelligence outfit, only to reveal its methods to the world.
But doing the right thing on a large stage is no proof of heroism. Most heroes don’t get to be famous.
One wishes there were more circumspection from political leaders about the charges Snowden has put forward — that the NSA collects and retains all emails, along with phone records, of U.S. citizens, and has constructed an apparatus for “turnkey tyranny,” in the name of fighting terror.
Instead, we’ve got Sen. Lindsey Graham storming around like Nathan Jessup, insisting these excesses save lives. Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Snowden of treason. Indeed, politicians of both parties are burnishing their terrorist-warrior credentials by finding new and exciting ways to call this guy a traitor.
Even the most admirable man in American public discourse, Charles Krauthammer, is wrong on this one. He likens the government hoarding private information to police having guns, suggesting neither empowerment is proof of abuse. But besides that the National Safety Council concludes you are eight times more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist, the larger question is what befits a free society.
A common tack of both liberals and conservatives defending government surveillance is to state that it is “legal” and “constitutional,” as though that were the end of it.
In the first place, “legal” has never been a synonym for “moral,” or for “wise.” As to “constitutional,” we have become inured to the notion that just about anything can be judged so, if you read deeply enough into those squiggly letters on parchment.
Lest we forget, slavery was once legal and, by some notorious interpretations, constitutional, too.
But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that if you stand on one leg, tilt your head, and squint just right, you can somehow read this egregiousness as “constitutional.”
You know what else is “constitutional”? The Fourth Amendment. It reads:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Both cannot be true. Either the warrantless collection of emails and phone data from supposedly free citizens is unconstitutional, or the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment does not mean what it says.