At some point, Snowden should have asked himself, "Is a public debate about a clandestine sector whose functioning is quite likely beyond the depth of the average citizen's understanding more important than the leveraging of such information by my country's competitors and enemies?"
Unless people were being hunted down and dragged out of their homes by authorities due to the information that the NSA was collecting, it's difficult to objectively validate Snowden's choice.
Russian state media has already seized upon the opportunity, blatantly pitting Snowden against Obama, asking, "Who is looking after protecting (the rights of world citizens)?" During a roundtable in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked what he thought about Snowden's revelations about government data mining. Visibly amused, Putin responded in Russian, "He told us nothing we didn't know before. ... Such methods are generally practicable. As long as it's exercised within the boundaries of the law that regulates intelligence activities, it's all right."
Has Snowden accomplished anything beyond giving authoritarian governments a license to practice Cold War-style "what-about-ism," whereby they can claim that surveillance measures in their countries are equivalent to those in America?
It would be easier to sympathize with Snowden's motives if intelligence was being used against Americans to hunt them down or kill them, as other regimes are wont to do. But the democratic safeguards in place prohibit illegally obtained intelligence from being admissible in a court of law under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
Snowden revealed through the Guardian that Britain's signals intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), had the capacity to intercept electronic communications of dignitaries who attended London's 2009 G20 summit. But, as the Guardian itself points out, such things are perfectly legal with ministerial authority.
In America and other legitimately democratic nations, intelligence collection and law enforcement are distinctly separate entities. This is not the case with many of America's competitors, who can show up at your door, drag you out of your home and impose a lifetime sentence in a prison labor camp based solely on wiretaps and a show trial, because there are no checks and balances within their systems. In these counties, the life of an average citizen can be deemed to be worth no more than the price of a bullet.
Snowden's amateurism has just given these regimes more ammunition.
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