Edward Snowden: Enemy of the State or hero?

„Enemy of the State“

What might have been thought to be mere fiction in the movies 15 years ago seems to become very real today: The head of the US National Security Agency (NSA) has a US Congressman killed, because for moral reasons he won’t consent to a new legislation that dramatically expands the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies.

Without his knowledge a lawyer receives a video documenting that murder. The NSA therefore destroys the lawyer’s life: he gets fired from his job and his wife throws him out of the house. The NSA systematically ruins his credibility and his reputation. He has to escape and is now completely on his own.

With the help of a retired NSA-agent he finds out that the NSA has planted surveillance devices all over his house. Finally they can hoist the NSA with their own petard: they plant surveillance on the NSA-boss and are able to secretly record a murder-confession. Congress therefore doesn’t approve of the new surveillance legislation. The title of this action-thriller is “Enemy of the State” – it was in the movies in 1998 and starred Will Smith as the lawyer who was being observed and chased by the NSA.

„Independence Day“

In the science-fiction-movie “Independence Day” (1996) aliens attack the earth to eradicate the human race and exploit the earth’s resources. Will Smith appears as a US Marine Corps pilot who – through his heroic action – helps the United States of America succeed in saving the entire human race just on the most important US national holiday, 4th of July, the “Independence Day”.

The 4th of July, the day of the US Declaration of Independence, is filled by proud speeches, great family reunions, fireworks and many Americans being moved to tears. On that day, the level of patriotism can hardly be surpassed. This year though, the United States are not threatened by super powered alien spaceships. Rather, it is a single young US-citizen who, for moral reasons, has published the surveillance methods of the National Security Agency (NSA). That is why he is now systematically searched for and wanted by the global power USA – even so far, that his passport his been declared invalid and the Bolivian presidential aircraft has been stopped on its way from Russia because the enemy of the State supposedly was aboard that plane.

Unalienable Rights

The Declaration of Independence is one the most important documents in the history of democracy. On July 4th, 1776 the 13 American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, declared themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. The Declaration, drafted substantially by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

Freedom versus Security

How far may governments go in order to secure those civil rights and liberties? Being observed and spied on, citizens feel limited in their liberties and freedom, while the governments – the US government before all others, but apparently now also Britain, France and others – argue that surveillance is necessary in order to guarantee national security. Especially the alleged danger of terrorist attacks is one of the justifications that is consistently brought up. In order to prevent terrorist attacks, emails, phone calls etc. allegedly have to be monitored, so that potential terrorist can be stopped ahead of time.

When the government spreads the terror

Is it really better to live in constant fear of the intransparent, possibly all-embracing surveillance by the state, only so you supposedly do not have to be afraid of terrorist attacks? Terror is a latin word. It means fear. Terrorist attacks with bombs and airplanes are terrible and they scare people. What terrorist do is wrong and unjust, they want to scare you. What happens, however, when the government, under the pretext of justice and security, systematically spreads fear and terror by secretly spying on their citizens? The psychological stress that people are being exposed to, by fear of being spied on, is different than the fear of the allegedly constant danger of islamistic terrorist attacks. Which of these fears is better?

Illusion: free of fear

Edward Snowden, the NSA betrayer, is being wanted and chased by the United States as an Enemy of the State, because he uncovered the illusion, pretended by the government, that there was such a thing as being free of fear. It is not the the overpowering aliens, the unknown evil, not the “islamistic terror”, not even the communists, that one has to be afraid of the most. Rather, the impression increases, that the almighty state, in favor of a pretended security of its citizens, restricts their civil liberties and their freedom. These attacks on freedom are no less serious than the terrorist attacks, allegedly prevented by intelligence services with their dubious methods.

A quote, often wrongly accredited to Thomas Jefferson, is really by Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States and coauthor of the Declaration of Independence:He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.“

Independence today

Maybe citizens of states worldwide should follow the example of the efforts of independence of 1776 and revolt against injustice. Governments, politicians and intelligence services which approve of, execute or at least tolerate an all-embracing surveillance of their citizens on a grand scale, make their cititzens, who by law and constitution have unalienable rights, dependent and unfree. When communication, social and political discourse are constantly monitored, read along or somehow controlled by public authorities, a free democratic society will cease to exist, for the government will no longer be able to ensure its duty to protect and secure their citizens’ civil liberties and rights. In that case the US Declaration of Independence recommends „that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.“

Enemy of the States flees from Nobel Peace Prize winner

Ever since his escape no one is currently ensuring Edward Snowden’s rights: his US-citizenship has basically been revoked and so far no country in the world has agreed to grant him political asylum. It is up to the citizens of all countries to demand their governments to comply with the constitutional basic civil liberties and human rights and to ensure the freedom, liberty and independence of all people. A utilitarian argumentation that plays off liberty against security is not to be considered. On July 4th someone twittered: “Who would have thought that the whole world would sympathize with an Enemy of the State who has to flee from a Nobel Peace Prize winner?” With the knowledge that he published, Edward Snowden is a threat for the authorities of the United States. He can now either stay a deservedly wanted Enemy of the State, who will eventually be delivered and convicted – or he could rather become a hero who at the right time had the courage to stand up against an almighty superpower.

Matthias Alexander Schmidt

I translated this text from the original German into English. You will find the German version here: http://www.kath-kommentar.de/2013/07/edward-snowden-staatsfeind-oder-held-05-07-2013/