What Edward Snowden Has Given Us

from the age-of-the-whistleblower dept

When Edward Snowden first revealed himself as the source of the NSA leaks, the Guardian released a short video interview with him in which he made the following confession:

"The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests."
Less than a week later, Glenn Greenwald was asserting that Snowden's worst fear had not been realized. That same claim was made somewhat more plausibly a few days ago by Philip Bump, writing in The Atlantic under the headline "Edward Snowden is Winning." Even if you don't agree with that optimistic assessment, the narrowness of the defeat of the Amash Amendment shows how far things have come in a few weeks.

But just as interesting as the fact that the debate is taking place, exactly as Snowden hoped, are the collateral benefits that are flowing from his leaks. Jay Rosen has gathered together a number of examples, part of what he calls The Snowden Effect:

Direct and indirect gains in public knowledge from the cascade of events and further reporting that followed Edward Snowden's leaks of classified information about the surveillance state in the U.S.
An interesting post by danah boyd suggests that there may be another important knock-on effect from Snowden's actions:
He's creating a template for how to share information. He's clearly learned from previous whistleblowers and is using many of their tactics. But he's also forged his own path which has had its own follies. Regardless of whether he succeeds or fails in getting asylum somewhere, he's inspired others to think about how they can serve as a check to power. And this is terrifying for any government.

Ironically, the government's efforts to deter future whistleblowers by being tough on Snowden is most likely to backfire. This kind of zero-tolerance approach assumes that those who are engaging in whistleblowing are operating under the same logic, priorities, and values as government actors. Sure, plenty of people don't come forward because they're too scared; that's not new. But because of how the government responded to Snowden, those who are willing to take on the big fight now have a model for how to do it, how to iterate based on what they learned watching Snowden. The US government, far from deterring future whistleblowers, has just incentivized a new generation of them by acting like a megalomaniac.
If, as boyd suggests, a new generation of government whistleblowers come forward to carry on the work Snowden began, that would be an even better result for him than simply leading to a few immediate changes, since it would offer the hope that those might be both durable and continuing.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: discussion, ed snowden, leaks, nsa, nsa surveillance, public debate, the snowden effect


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    out_of_the_blue, 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:59pm

    Not much, actually. -- Oh, it's potentially useful to publicize,

    but he's put out NOTHING that I didn't know for years solely from other press accounts. All I've done is keep my eyes open without ignoring evidence from thinking it normal to be spied on -- by Google or any other part of the control grid.

    But as the first post says in other words, he's only got the dolts somewhat up to speed on how surveilled they are.

    Two points on the notion this will inspire others: first, he can be snatched and punished harshly enough to have the intended effect; 2nd, that assumes this isn't an intended limited hangout. In latter case, we may indeed see more such "whistleblowers" whether Snowden is real or not: just as in the novel "1984", a series of internal enemies are not only found but recruited (Winston becomes one); a police state needs enemies and will create them if needed. -- 3rd, THREE points: already plenty of fascists calling for MORE surveillance, that TOO is an opportunity Snowden has provided...

    Who knows what's real any more? Much of the deception is based on giving people the illusion that there even is opposition, but can bet your last inflated paper dollar that they've thought ahead to handle that problem too. -- For example, look what happened to Scott Ritter when he tried to blow the whistle on the phony WMD hunt in Iraq: child pornography was "found" on his computer. Or David Kelly in England: went out for a walk and "suicided". Or Julian Assange (whether a knowing agent or not): he's holed up in an embassy because wanted for alleged charges.


    By the way, this is so obvious that I haven't mentioned: but IF Snowden HAD a "deadman switch" to drop information that'd do in much of the US intelligence system, then EVERY intelligence in the world, and the alleged "al-Qaeda", would be trying to kill him so as to activate it! That he's still alive is proof that those intelligence agencies agree with me that he's a plant.

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