If, pre-Snowden, the NSA was able to keep us safe from terrorist attacks by accessing countless millions of phone records, and if there is nothing unconstitutional about this, then, post-Snowden, it should be able to continue keeping us safe from terrorist attacks by accessing countless millions of phone records.
That scores of Americans and others from around the world now know what the NSA has been doing all along is, or at least should be, neither here nor there—if it was never doing anything wrong in the first place. For if it was never acting impermissibly to begin with, there is nothing that it needs to change—regardless of whether American citizens like it or not.
Snowden observed and reported what he thought was one of the greatest acts of theft in our country’s history, a crime by which the federal government attempted to deprive this generation and their posterity of their birthright, the liberty for which their fathers sacrificed all and which they codified in the Constitution that they ratified.
But, the Snowden haters insist, there was no crime. Two things here should be borne in mind.
First, even if this is true, it certainly isn’t obviously true. Or, rather, it is “obviously” true only to Republicans, for if it was so clear that Snowden was off base, then, presumably, the federal government wouldn’t be launching investigations into its own activities and huge numbers of Americans—including office holders in the federal government itself—wouldn’t agree with Snowden that a crime has been done.
Second, even if there is no crime here, that, as I just noted, it is not at all obvious that there isn’t, should serve to relieve Snowden of much of the scorn that’s being heaped upon him. Just because one can’t be certain that it is a mugging that’s occurring in the dark alleyway doesn’t mean that one hasn’t a responsibility to notify the authorities. Snowden acted responsibly.
But he didn’t, his opponents maintain. He could’ve notified his superiors about his concerns. Instead, he chose to go public with them.
To think about this last objection for more than a few seconds is to realize that it is on a par with demanding of a witness to a crime that he first go and register his complaint with the alleged criminal.
Snowden deserves to be thanked for stirring up an especially spirited national conversation over the relationship between security and liberty. Yet maybe time will also prove us to be in his debt for stirring up a national conversation over the relationship between ideological rhetoric and sober thinking.
For the latter I won’t hold my breath.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at email@example.com or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.