Friday, 28 June 2013

Demonising Edward Snowden

Make no mistake: the US administration is very badly rattled by the revelations that they spy, at a massive scale, on all its citizens and many non-US citizens.  One common response I see repeatedly in the blog/news sphere is the comment "We already knew this was happening; Snowden has done little to advance our knowledge".  No.  We might reasonably have suspected it.  We might even have had evidence of some aspects of it.  But it is a far cry from that to the now absolute certainty that it is happening and on such a vast scale.  What Snowden did was heroic, informative, and very dangerous for him.

Another common response from the administration apologists is to declare that innocent people have nothing to hide.  Many people have said, but it is worth repeating, that this is unbelievably naive.  We have all got something to hide.  We all need privacy.  I do not want my government to use my private secrets against me if ever I do need to defend myself against an accusation.  I do not want to use my toilet in a glass-walled room.  I do not want the opinions I had thirty years ago to be used against me.  Isn't that absolutely obvious?  And isn't it absolutely obvious that I have a right to that protection?

I would love the consequence of the NSA's activities coming to light to be a rueful admission by the US administration that they have gone way too far in ignoring the rights of their people.  Obviously that would in turn also be unbelievably naive.  So what do I expect to actually happen?

Well,  I don't think they will try to seize Snowden and "render" him back to the US.  I believe they will be much more subtle and wage a campaign in the media to gradually discredit him.  Already we see that officialdom's main response is to ignore the actual content of the leaks and concentrate on his breaking of US law.  That is going to continue to be the issue that they hammer home.  Unfortunately they have a huge advantage in a war of opinion.  They have thousands of opinion-moulders and free access to every major news outlet.  Snowden and his supporters cannot match that propaganda machine.

To begin with, many US journalists who might well have known or suspected what was going on and turned an expedient (or cowardly) blind eye have clearly felt some irritation at missing out on the scoop of the decade.  Where in the US Press do we see the staunch defenders of their constitution?  Where is the outrage at what has been done to their society?  Instead we see nuanced discussions about how or whether Snowden has broken the law.  Where is the recognition that it is clearly impossible for Snowden to get a fair hearing from the US authorities?

Furthermore the US administration can channel opinion pieces in droves to the media.  Overwhelmingly we shall therefore see articles attacking Snowden personally and down-playing the surveillance issues.  Oh - you didn't think that some US officials might not tow the administration line, did you?  Why should they when they haven't done hitherto?

Only time will tell whether the administration can successfully distract the public attention from the real issue.  If that sounds pessimistic let me close with one optimistic comment.  I have read many article in the US Press about Snowden and, although most of them ignore or downplay the enormity of the NSA's trampling over civil rights, the comments of readers are much more supportive.  What I hope will happen is that this evidently large supportive constituency of folk, who understand that the true issue is civil liberties not breach of employment contract, will eventually have an effect on those powerful vested interests who wish to sweep the real issue under the carpet.

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