First of all, enough already with the breathless coverage of Edward Snowden’s location. Really. Enough. As much as everyone would like life to resemble a Robert Ludlum novel, it so rarely does. Unless there is something innately newsworthy in his absence from a plane, I don’t need to know which vaguely hostile nation is harboring him at any given time.
So I know I am totally asking for it by saying this, but maybe we can all take a moment to pause in penning our various encomia to Mr. Snowden? This being a community with its fair share of libertarians, it is probably the very height of foolishness not to start composing my own paean to his greatness. But for some reason I am seeing a very murky situation where apparently everyone else sees stark black and white.
One cannot have absolute liberty and absolute security. One must compromise one to maximize the other. Where one draws those lines varies from person to person. I respect the positions of those whose values rest more solidly on the former, but that doesn’t mean any preference for the latter is inherently malevolent. And one individual’s decision to compromise the latter because he favors the former is not heroism on its face.
Further, if I were to craft a program that would strike as good a balance as possible between the two values, my understanding of the leaked NSA programs is that they seem to have done a reasonably good job of it. (I expect to have this misapprehension vigorously disputed in comments.) Just because Congress does a piss-poor job with oversight when it doesn’t involve something that rhymes with “Mengazi” doesn’t mean such oversight wasn’t appropriate or sufficient by design. Call me naive, but I don’t inherently mistrust the government. Frankly, I take a strange kind of comfort when both John Boehner and Al Franken defend something.
Finally, Mr. Snowden obviously broke the law. I saw somewhere on Twitter (I think it was Julian Sanchez’s feed, but I may be wrong) a glib dismissal of calling for him to be prosecuted on the grounds of “Because laws!”
Um…. because laws! (“Because liberty!” is not an argument, either.) If you think the laws are pernicious or unjust, by all means agitate to have them changed. But just because someone’s violation of the law comports with your values doesn’t mean that prosecution of that individual isn’t the proper action on the government’s part. It seems entirely plausible to me that Mr. Snowden’s actions have compromised national security, and far from obvious that his doing so was so unmistakably noble as to obviate the need for a trial.
Those with a more absolutist stance on civil liberties will doubtless disagree with me, but I am not yet ready to crown this man a hero. I see an admixture of good and bad, pro and con in this whole mess, and find his leaks admirable in some ways and deplorable in others. I believe that our government has a legitimate interest in safeguarding the security of its citizens, and that those safeguards may intrude in ways both acceptable and not on our liberties. To what degree we tolerate those incursions on our liberty is a subject for sincere debate. But I’m not willing to give this man a “get out of jail free” card just yet, and I don’t think calls to do so pay due attention to all the issues at play in cases like this.