Edward Snowden is one of the most controversial men of the 21st century. To many, he is a hero but to the U.S. government, the man is a traitor. Snowden may divide people across the world but we can say one thing with certainty- without him, important information about the operations of the National Security Agency (NSA) would still be unknown. Since the NSA is responsible for the security of the United States, some of the information it carries could be of sensitive matters pertaining to national security. However, how far can an organisation go and how much can they get away with by towing the notion of ‘national security’ as an excuse. Snowden himself dealt with this dilemma before he finally decided to out the government. It could not have been an easy decision and had made his life a living hell as the entire force of the U.S. Administration chased him across the world. Snowden was crucified by both major American parties as a traitor to the nation but to a generation growing up in the digital age, he was a valorous whistleblower.
Snowden’s actions did not, like say Julian Assange’s reckless publications, put lives and data at risk. He merely unearthed what seemed like too farfetched a conspiracy to be true- that the U.S. government was spying on its own citizens. Understandably, outrage followed. In an increasingly liberal world order, where democracies, especially in the West, are formed on principles of individual freedoms, the actions of the NSA shocked thousands of ordinary people. They were up in arms and yet, the man that had revealed the government’s dirty secret was being treated like a pariah. Governments across the world are now cracking down on dissent and leaks. The Obama administration especially tightened its noose around the average whistleblower to keep them in check. Stephen Burgard, chair of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism said that as a result “many people are less willing to come forward to the press for fear that they would lose their jobs.”
The great irony is that most democratic judicial systems, including India and the United States, have laws in place to protect any brave whistleblower. They are borne out a morality that encourages citizens to report wrongdoings that they see around them. Unfortunately, these laws and this morality are often forgotten when the perpetrator of these misdeeds is the state itself. With the full force of the state machinery working to discredit you and ruin your life, it is not easy to stay true to your own morals. In these trying times, we must take on the responsibility to create a space conducive for dissent, opposition, and a space that allows the government to be called out for its callous actions.