2014-06-12 / Columns

Only time will tell what leaker’s legacy will be

By Tim Skubick

When they write the book on Edward Snowden, you have to wonder which chapter he will end up in. The one with Rosa Parks, the freedom rider who broke the law to advance the civil rights movement or the one on Benedict Arnold the notorious traitor who joined the British Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Since the young Mr. Snowden decided to break the law and release a ton of classified documents, the public debate has focused on one question: Is he a traitor and a patriot?

The public opinion poll by the Huffington Post two months ago found 31 percent felt he did the right thing, 33 percent did not and 36 percent were not sure.

But nobody has really quizzed our elected officials on what they think.

Take U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow who chose her words very carefully as she waded into the back and forth.

“I think what he should have done is stayed in the Unites States and fought it out like other Americans instead of leaving and going to Russia,” she begins.

Mr. Snowden says he did what he did because he wanted the American citizens to know how pervasive the secret surveillance was and what impact it was having on civil liberties. And 53 percent of the citizens believe they have a right to know who is spying on whom.

Ms. Stabenow, who is privy to closed door briefings on the data collected by the CIA, NSA and who knows how many other secret federal agencies, admits Snowden's actions have “elevated” the issue but “I also think he is dealing with information and tactics and giving it away to folks that we certainly don’t want to have them.”

Having said that she declines to call him a traitor.

Macomb County executive and former sheriff Mark Hackel did.

“I think anybody who provides information to others that is guarded information ... boy, I tell you to me that would be someone who would be a traitor.”

Reminded that Mr. Snowden said he was doing it for the good of the country, Mr. Hackel would have none of that either. “I don’t buy that.”

This country has a long history of individual citizens willing to break the law for a cause. They oftentimes were punished, but in the long run that behavior resulted in social changes. Even the Snowden disclosures have produced some changes in the surveillance laws. During his interview with NBC news Mr. Snowden did not call himself a martyr but clearly he was at peace with himself.

Michigan’s governor declined to take a stance on federal spying into private lives. I’m going to “stay in my own lane ... I don’t see any value in ...” thus he declined to label Mr. Snowden one thing or another. But he does acknowledge “we need to be thoughtful” and do a “balancing act” on intelligence gathering and the privacy rights of citizens especially in this hi-tech society.

The governor says he has looked into state police activities in this regard. The agency does use the Internet to fight crime often going to Facebook and other social media to track down criminals. That does not compare to the feds reading emails and listening in on phone calls without a court order.

It may surprise you, however, to discover what the police can legally do when confronting a potential criminal on the other end of the computer screen. If the suspect asks if the other person is a police officer, the courts have said, law enforcement does not have to tell the truth.

By the way the governor thought the questions on NSA spying were good ones even though he punted.

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