By Erin Bloodgood
Elm Staff Writer
Edward Snowden became a household name in June 2013 when he handed over close to 1 million documents that detailed government surveillance programs and National Security Agency practices. Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton and did contract work for the NSA. The documents that he handed over in Hong Kong to journalist Glenn Greenwald were then passed to other journalists. They contained information that Snowden felt the American people should know, information regarding the collection of phone records, text messages, and programs like PRISM that allow the NSA to get information from the servers of companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and more.
The documents also revealed that the NSA spies on foreign countries and world leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Additionally, they stated that programs such as XKeyscore that allow the NSA to track what users do on the Internet through data intercepts across the globe. MYSTIC, another program revealed by Snowden, is one in which the NSA intercepts and stores all calls made in the Bahamas and Afghanistan and also collects all phone calls’ metadata (data about the data) in Mexico, Kenya, and the Philippines.
After the leaking of the documents and the stepping up of Snowden as the person who illegally stole the documents, people quickly formed opinions. Is Snowden a traitor? Is he a hero? He of course broke his contract and leaked top-secret documents, which makes him a traitor to the American government. However, he also told citizens what they needed to know in terms of their personal privacy and for that he is a hero. Isn’t Snowden’s predicament the classic moral dilemma? The one that you’re asked about in interviews, the hypothetical “if you knew about something happening at work that you knew was wrong, what would you do?”
Would you keep your mouth shut or would you alert someone with the ability to do something about it? We all know the right answer, to speak up and tell someone about the immoral or unethical situation that is occurring. Snowden faced this dilemma and did what he believed to have been the right thing: to look out for the interests of the American people. Snowden took the ultimate risk to inform his fellow Americans, and I’m not sure many others would have done the same thing if they were in his shoes.
On April 5, John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” devoted a good portion of the show to a segment on government surveillance and even played a clip of an interview with none other than Snowden himself, who is living in asylum in Russia. Oliver’s funny yet informative interview showed us that average Americans don’t know the name “Edward Snowden”, confuse Snowden with the “Wikileaks guy” Julian Assange, and most certainly do not “give a remote s**t about” foreign spying. These are things that I would fully expect the average American citizen to not know about given the way our culture operates. Personally, I only think we care about something for as long as there’s a news story on it and maybe not even then.
Even before the interview, Oliver shows statistics from last month about Americans and their concern over government surveillance, which shows that 46 percent of Americans were “not very or not at all concerned” about government surveillance. Almost half of US citizens aren’t concerned about the government collecting their data? Why not?
Later in the interview with Snowden, Oliver brings up a good point. People care about who sees their nude pictures (in the interview “dick pics” were specifically targeted). He said that if Americans realized that that NSA sees the private pictures they send out, then they would be upset. Oliver and Snowden listed several government surveillance acts and programs and each has a way of getting their hands on your private pictures, or more accurately, the pictures of your privates. Americans on the street all said that they would not like these pictures to be seen or collected by the NSA and that they would like the “dick pic program,” if it exists, to be shut down. Luckily, it doesn’t exist, and according to Snowden “it is not seen as a big deal in the NSA culture. You see naked pictures all the time.” He urges people not to change their actions because of the government’s wrongdoing.
I encourage all of you reading this article to investigate what Snowden did and what the NSA is doing for yourselves. If you’ve never heard of Snowden before this, I encourage you to start reading the news or at least watch Oliver’s show. He’s funny and informative. Please remember that these issues are only important if the American people believe them to be important, and that’s where we have gone wrong.