OPINION: Edward Snowden should be allowed to return to United States

Former NSA employee’s information has proved invaluable; deserves credit



Edward Snowden, a former CIA and NSA employee, has been in Russia on political exile since 2013 after leaking information about the NSA’s data collection processes. He did the American public a favor but has been paying for it ever since. It is time for him to come home.

JACOB HERSH, Evergreen columnist

You are constantly being watched.

It’s a given in this technologically connected day and age, a reality we treat as an inevitable byproduct of living in the information era, but your information is not private. Not even close.

We joke about being on “watchlists,” or “our FBI agent,” as if a specific person is assigned to each of us to keep tabs on our emails, messages and search history.

But that’s ridiculous. Obviously, the FBI isn’t devoting people 24/7 to watch your online history. That’d be next to impossible and highly inefficient. Relax, you can breathe a little easier.

Instead, they’re delegating the task to a multi-billion dollar, international, highly sophisticated data collection program that monitors the internet and online traffic of every single American citizen. It’s always on, and it’s always listening.

Feel better? You shouldn’t. The program is called PRISM, and it’s run by the National Security Agency. We’ve got a similar program, called ECHELON, running in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., New Zealand and Australia, that does essentially the same thing.

Many countries have some sort of data collection system in place, supposedly to “preserve national security.” However, the scope of the programs that the U.S. runs every single day is historically unrivaled, making PRISM and ECHELON, without exaggeration, the largest single data collection efforts of all time, processing millions of phone calls, emails and texts per day.

The only reason we’re aware of all this is because of one person — CIA employee Edward Snowden, who was one of the NSA’s top analysts in the field of cybersecurity and data mining. In 2013, Snowden fled the country to Hong Kong and leaked a massive amount of information to multiple news sources about the NSA’s data collection programs, many of which he had helped build.

Since 2013, Snowden has been in political exile, seeking asylum in Russia. He’s considered by the U.S. government to be a traitor to the nation, wanted on multiple counts of treason, all because he made the choice to stand up and do the right thing. Snowden risked his life and his freedom to hold the government accountable for blatant abuse of power.

“I believe he did the right thing,” said Charlie Hanacek, president of the WSU Linux User’s Group, and senior computer science major. “I wish there had been more effective channels of accomplishing what he wanted to do … but overall, I believe it was more beneficial than not.”

Snowden’s release of thousands of classified documents helped alert people to what was truly going on behind the scenes at the NSA. The fact that there was tech surveillance existed was known to an extent in computer and legal circles, given the NSA’s long history of wiretapping and surveillance. However, Snowden’s information gave the American people the true scope of what was going on.

“I think a lot of the tech surveillance was already kind of an open secret, and it’s good for the public to be aware of,” said Kelly Marshall, a third-year political science student.

Awareness of government misdeeds is one thing, but the fact that Snowden has had his passport revoked, his citizenship scrapped and been made a fugitive from his own country is simply abominable. The grounds for prosecution the government has brought against him are based on century-old rules that have no application under the circumstances, especially the counts of treason, based on legislation from before World War I.

Succinctly put, the government has little legal precedent or justification to call for Snowden’s arrest, and multiple examples and reasons as to why he should be accepted back into the country as a legal citizen with charges dropped.

Arguments have been made that Snowden should have gone through the proper legal channels to bring suit against the NSA, rather than dumping thousands of documents, but in his particular case, the information was too highly classified, and his job too secretive for an open-court trial to have been effective or allowed.

“I’m absolutely for making sure you exhaust your other channels of whistleblowing before you go as big as possible with it,” Hanacek said, referring to Snowden’s method of releasing information to journalists.

Regardless of means or method, Snowden changed the world of large-scale surveillance, information technology and more importantly, our fundamental understanding of how the government keeps tabs on its citizens.

This does not mean, however, that the NSA has reversed its practices, or that it’s the only player we should be worried about in the information collecting game.

“Any kind of change needs to happen from a top-down level, in terms of legislation,” Hanacek said, with regards to government data collection. “Also, don’t work at unethical companies … They can’t write the code if they don’t have the developers.”

Snowden’s leaks have helped damage the veil of secrecy that hid a significant amount of NSA projects and surveillance, and for that, everyone who communicates via technology should thank him. He played a key role in unlocking the vast vault of unethical government secrets, and he should be praised for it, not condemned.

It’s time to honor a national hero and drop charges against Edward Snowden. It’s time for him to come home.