Edward Snowden's every move still strikes controversy
Apr 22, 2014

Edward Snowden's every move still strikes controversy

With Edward Snowden's major contribution to history - the leaking of the NSA documents that shed significant light on what our governments are doing - now well over and done with, you might think we would be focusing on the revelations themselves, and that little if any attention would need to be given to the whistle-blower himself. Alas, as has been something of a pattern, this is not the case. 

The latest flare up came about when Snowden was given the opportunity to ask Putin a question on electronic surveillance in Russia. The pushback on this was widespread, leading Snowden to publish his own op-ed in the Guardian. Take, for example, this critical Vox.com piece (this new site seems to be excellent in general, by the way):
"There's no indication that Edward Snowden's great ambition, when he decided to reveal secret NSA programs to the world, was to end up on Russian state television lobbing softball questions at a winking Vladimir Putin. But that's where he ended up.
... 
Snowden's silence was seen in the US as at best an act of self-preservation, even at the cost of the values that had landed him in Moscow, and at worst as confirmation that he was willing to go to tremendous and even admirable lengths to oppose American abuses but was untroubled by those same abuses if they were committed by Russians."
Snowden importance came because he had access to an enormous amount of incriminating information and choose to release that. Sorry to state the obvious, but now he doesn't have any special access. He can no more leak information about whatever surveillance Russia does or doesn't do than you or I. His lack of access means he simply isn't able to shed new light on Russian abuses or even have any special knowledge of Russian abuses or even Russian society at large. Thinking that this somehow implies he is a hypocrite only caring about US abuses is nonsensical. 

What Snowden does have, is a somewhat larger microphone than the rest of us. That is, his notoriety means if he wants to say something the audience will be far larger than, say, mine or certain Vox.com commentators. If he wants to transition his notoriety into being a widely published social critic he could probably do this, although I see why he would be under any moral obligation to do so. Incidentally, given that his audience is largely Western, the argument in the piece that he should be turning to criticizing Russia - again, with no special access or information - instead of addressing Western audiences in the Guardian seems nonsensical. 

Personally, I think his question to Putin is fine. What else, exactly, could he say? He doesn't have some special knowledge, so all he can do is try to spark a discussion about Russian electronic surveillance which is exactly what he did.

But here is my larger point: it doesn't matter. Admittedly, I have waded into such debates but this is because I find them beyond silly and think that point out their silliness might help us to focus on the issues that actually do matter. And after Snowden published his information, Snowden the man just doesn't much matter any longer and we obsess over it to our detriment. 

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