In an editorial, The Guardian says: No government or bureaucracy loves a whistleblower. Those who leak official information will often be denounced, prosecuted or smeared. The more serious the leak, the fiercer the pursuit and the greater the punishment. Edward Snowden knew as much before contacting this newspaper to reveal some of the things that troubled him about the work, scope and oversight of the US and British intelligence agencies. He is unlikely to be surprised at the clamour to have him locked up for life, or to have seen himself denounced as a traitor.
It was also quite predictable that Snowden would be charged with criminal offences, even if there is something shocking in the use of the 1917 Espionage Act – a measure intended to prevent anti-war speech in the first world war by treating it as sedition. On the available evidence Snowden’s almost certain motive for speaking out was far removed from anything resembling espionage, sedition or anti-Americanism. His attempts to stay beyond the clutches of US law may involve travel to countries with a poor record on freedom of expression. But his choice of refuge does not, of itself, make him a traitor. As Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith has written (“You don’t have to like Edward Snowden“): “Snowden’s personal story is interesting only because the new details he revealed are so much more interesting. We know substantially more about domestic surveillance than we did, thanks largely to stories and documents printed by The Guardian. They would have been just as revelatory without Snowden’s name on them.”
America is blessed with a first amendment, which prevents prior restraint and affords a considerable measure of protection to free speech. But the Obama administration has equally shown a dismaying aggression in not only criminalising leaking and whistleblowing, but also recently placing reporters under surveillance – tracking them and pulling their phone and email logs in order to monitor their sources for stories that were patently of public importance. [Continue reading…]