By Nick Anstett
One of the most wanted men in the U.S. just found a new ally. On Oct. 29, the European Union voted in favor of granting Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the infamous 2013 National Security Agency (NSA) leaks, political rights within member states. According to The Huffington Post, the parliament voted 285-281 on the proposed legislation which requested that member states “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistleblower and international human rights defender.” Snowden would later Tweet that the EU vote should not be seen as an attack against the U.S., but rather as a form of international friendship extended towards him.
The reception stateside has been less welcoming. On the very day of the EU decision, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the very dragnet surveillance program that Snowden recovered will operate in full throughout the 180 day grace period granted by U.S. Congress prior to its dismantling for a more targeted apparatus. The Guardian reported that the supposed justification for this delay in restructuring of government surveillance is due to the potential danger it may pose in counter-terrorism operations.
These events only serve to highlight the growing rift between U.S. surveillance operations and the reception it has received in the international community. In May, representatives of the Green Party erected a trio of statues depicting Snowden alongside fellow whistleblowers Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning in Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany. The sculptures have been praised as representing a momentum towards freedom and the fight against invasive governments. In contrast, according to Mashable, police removed a similar statue depicting Snowden placed on the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Brooklyn, New York. While the statue was placed unofficially and anonymously by the artists in question, it is emblematic of the contrast between how Snowden and his whistleblowing peers are received in both communities.
While it is true that Snowden’s actions can be considered a violation of the Espionage Act and potentially placed the lives of some US operatives in danger, his actions ultimately acted towards the exposure of a wide reaching and violating government program that in and of itself violates governmental principals and arguably the Constitution. While some form of a trial for Snowden may be due, the real issue may be an issue of international pride. The dragnet style surveillance act first administered by the Bush administration after 9/11 and continued by President Barack Obama captured information from the U.S.’s allies as well from its own people. Following Snowden’s 2013 revelation, the U.S. found itself red handed and spent much of the year reconciling with not only itself but also dozens of foreign nations. The Washington Post reported last June that with the exemptions of Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the NSA had a carte blanche order on what nations, ultimately 193 in total, it could conduct surveillance on. In particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal phone was tapped leading to a long series of awkward conversations between both governments.
Snowden’s actions exposed the dangers of an anti-terror apparatus run amok. While the benefits of broad surveillance for the protection of the U.S. citizens can be argued, the end result is a massive violation of trust on the part of our nation’s government. There is a reason that the EU and other nations have labeled Snowden not as a traitor but a human right’s activist. Their vote of granting political rights to him represents a growing frustration with the international community with the overstepping of U.S. counter terrorism efforts. Hopefully when the U.S .recovers from its still fuming embarrassment, it can reach a similar conclusion.