It has been said that, sometimes, the more things change- the more they remain the same. This could be true when considering the plight of NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden. The one-year anniversary of his disclosures which rocked the world has just passed. And while a firestorm swirled around his revelations and debate has ensued, little concrete action has been taken.
A year later finds Snowden still ensconced in asylum in Russia with prospects for a change in residence anytime soon appearing bleak. The debate continues, though it no longer rages, as to whether Edward Snowden is a patriot or pariah. But the fact remains he still is in Russia, prohibited to travel due to revocation of his US passport and the fact that he has been denied asylum by some 20 countries.
Snowden is not apparently a happy camper in Russia and he wants his right to travel restored. Speaking to the human rights parliamentary assembly in Strassbourg on Tuesday via a video link from Moscow, he offered his feelings on the subject of his exile. “I didn’t choose to be in Russia,” he said. You may recall that he had intended to fly to South America via Cuba when his travel itinerary was curtailed by the US government.
He commented further that: “If the Russian government had a choice I’m sure they’d prefer me not to be here.” This writer doubts the veracity of that statement given the amount of mileage Vladimir Putin has gotten Snowden’s presence and America’s quandary over it. But Snowden says, “Since I came here I’ve been very open in saying I want to restore my right to travel…live a normal life.”
While things have calmed down after the initial disclosures and there has been much hand-wringing, there has been no actual legislation passed to rein-in government spying although it could be argued that Snowden’s disclosures created an atmosphere in which reform of government surveillance could take place.
Just this week the US Supreme Court decided some cases that challenged law enforcement agencies unfettered access to cellphone data. Arguably this will later apply to other electronic devices such as tablets, pads or even computers. And the judiciary is said to up in arms over local police in Florida using mobile cell towers (called stingrays) to gather information about cellphone locations without a warrant. So Snowden may have opened a can of worms which is still open.
Ideally Snowden would like to return to the US – but as a hero not a traitor facing a jail term. He reiterates, “Public affairs have to be known by the public” and then added, “When citizens are reduced to the state of subjects, where we are not active participants… that diminishes us as a free people, as a society and as a culture.” The government would counter that national security necessitates the use of advanced surveillance to persevere against the threats posed by a new technological age.
World affairs – the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the ongoing Ukrainian stalemate and Syrian war and, now, the Iraqi debacle – have pushed the Snowden issue to the back-burner. It remains to be seen if the story will continue to have traction and resonance in year two of the saga.