Edward Snowden Is a Hero

The latest headlines should put the debate to rest.

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

That settles it, then: Edward Snowden is a hero.

You remember Snowden, of course. He’s the former NSA contractor who took the agency’s secrets — including the revelation that the the federal government collects rather more data on its citizens than most of those citizens probably expected — then gave those secrets to Glenn Greenwald and fled the country. His initial appearance on the scene produced one of those irresolvable debates, whether Snowden was a hero, a traitor, or maybe a mix of both.

“We must respond to the valid concerns of Americans, who are alarmed by reports regarding their civil liberties,” Sen. Marco Rubio said in a speech last month.  “But we must also distinguish these reasonable concerns from conspiracy theories sparked by Edward Snowden. This man is a traitor who has sought assistance and refuge from some of the world’s most notorious violators of liberty and human rights.”

Except: The debate’s been resolved. Snowden: A hero.

How do we know this?

• This week, a federal judge said the NSA’s mass collection of “metadata” about Americans’ communications is, in fact, un-Constitutional.

• Snowden’s leaks — and Greenwald’s reporting — helped spur some the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that gave us the judge’s opinion. And the opinion was unambiguous.

I cannot imagine a more “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary invasion” than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely, such a program infringes on “that degree of privacy” that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed, I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware “the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,” would be aghast.

That would seem to be the end of it. There may still be an NSA data-Hoovering project int he future, but Americans are now at least aware of it, aware that their every call, keystroke, and webpage surfed is done with federal officials looking over their shoulder. Snowden has ensured we can’t deny the reality anymore. That is a good, heroic thing.

Whether you agree probably depends on how you define the limits of citizenship. If you figure the obligation of an American citizen goes about as far as electing a “real” government to do the real (and, often, dirty work) of governance — then, yes, Snowden is probably a traitor.

If, on the other hand, you believe that “We the people” means all of us, often but not always at odds with each other, but each of us striving to  make the best community we can always, well, Snowden is probably your man.

Snowden didn’t put his conscience in storage when he went to work for the NSA. He behaved as a citizen and empowered other citizens to do their work. He may have done so awkwardly — there’s that whole issue of taking refuge in Russia to consider — he did not leave well enough alone. Sometimes, that’s just heroic enough.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.