SIMPSON: Did Snowden unveil intrusive surveillance or an attack on our liberties?



Edward Snowden, National Security Administration leaker, is a controversial figure. Actually, he is a fugitive because he has stirred up a hornet’s nest by leaking secret details about NSA programs. His revelations have caused Americans to have greater concern for loss of some of their liberty and freedom.

For many years, United States citizens have been told the law of the land gives each individual certain rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have taken these rights for granted until Snowden warned that limits have been placed on our privacy by government eavesdropping. Our telephone calls, emails and texts are being monitored by our government.

Hey, it’s OK. President Obama authorized it, federal judges went along with it, and Congress has been kept informed. True, we were unaware before Snowden’s whistle blowing. Snowden believes his actions make him a hero. Others describe him as a traitor because he has betrayed United States secrets, is unrepentant, on the run, seeking asylum and will not face the music and answer charges. He is, at this writing, still in limbo at the Moscow airport.

President Obama justifies this snooping as necessary to national security. In the fight against terrorists, eavesdropping and intrusion into our personal lives is a cost we must bear.

What people worry about is abuse of this power, this snooping. It is supposed to focus on terrorism, but is it also used to spy on political enemies or for industrial espionage? If so, Americans are having values destroyed and personal liberty diminished.

Big Brother watching could run amok and privacy become a thing of the past. High tech makes spying easier than ever before. We need supervision of this program to prevent abuse. Warnings by Senators Wyden and Udall about this spying cause citizens to wonder just how widespread the invasive surveillance has become. We can only hope and trust that our government is exercising restraint in its monitoring.

Government spokesmen have told us monitors are not interested in the contents of our calls. Still, they are collected and stored. So are emails, texts and health and financial records, resumes and all kinds of such data. Such records could, if misused, destroy personal privacy.

So Edward Snowden remains in Russia seeking asylum there or in South America. It seems he has achieved his goal of alerting his fellow citizens to this government monitoring program. Little can be gained by him with further disclosures unless he is bent on harming America’s national security. Sympathy for him is running out. Maybe it is time to surrender and face justice.

He has sparked debate about the balance between liberty and security. Releasing more confidential information would be bizarre and it would be dangerous to American security. Regardless of consequences, Snowden should return to America and turn himself in. The freedoms he claims to be protecting would also protect him and give him his day in court. After using confidential information to arouse the community and breaking the law, Snowden should accept the penalty imposed.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.