If this Wall Street Journal/NBC poll is any indication, many Americans do not really know who helped create the political climate where members of Congress are finally questioning heads of intelligence agencies and assessing secret surveillance programs and whether they improperly violate privacy. It would seem that whatever information the majority has heard makes him seem like an arrogant leaker who foolishly fled to China and then Russia and recklessly allowed these two rival countries of the US access to sensitive state secrets related to US surveillance programs. Naturally, one would not have a good view of Snowden is this is what they were told happened.
The reality is, as Senator Ron Wyden said in a speech at an event put on by the Center for American Progress yesterday, the actions by Congress members are a part of a "march to a real debate" on surveillance that this country would not have had seven or eight weeks ago.
To further understand how critical it is that Congress be, at minimum, reviewing and questioning the surveillance programs, here's this column by Alexander Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he concisely presents the situation Americans face:
The NSA's endgame can be seen in the legal justification it offers for the program now being debated by Congress. The NSA argues that its collection of every American's phone records is constitutional because the agency stores the records in a lockbox and looks at the records only if and when it has a reason to search them. In other words, it claims that the constitution is not concerned with the acquisition of our sensitive data, only with the later searching of it.
This is an extremely dangerous argument. For two centuries, American courts have taken the view that the constitution is concerned with the government's initial intrusion upon privacy, and not only with the later uses to which the government puts the information it has collected. That's why it is unconstitutional for the government, without a warrant, to seize your journal even if it never reads it; to record your phone call even if it never listens to it; or to videotape your bedroom activities even if it never presses play.
Wherever Snowden ends up living temporarily or permanently or however Americans view him is virtually insignificant when considering what was revealed and how necessary it is to begin dismantling key aspects of the massive surveillance state that has arisen in the years since the September 11th attacks.
Snowden deserves credit for bringing the country to this moment, but if one cannot admit he has played a constructive role in bringing about a debate that--despite what the Obama administration may claim--the president never wanted to have, the least one can do is reject this canard that the NSA must hoard all data from Americans' communications to keep America safe.
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