Opinion: Tech industry should lead Snowden pardon charge

September 30, 2016 by Troy Wolverton, The Mercury News

There's a debate raging right now over whether President Barack Obama, before he leaves office, should grant Edward Snowden a pardon.

It's amazing to me that we're even having this discussion. Of course he deserves a pardon. What's more, the tech industry, which has largely been silent on the issue, ought to be leading the charge.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, three years ago leaked documents to journalists that exposed a widespread, unchecked and largely unaccountable surveillance regime. Constructed in the days and years following the Sept. 11 attacks, that regime went far beyond its original mission of trying to prevent terrorist attacks as it began keeping tabs on the electronic communications of just about everybody.

Thanks to Snowden's leaks, we know, among other things, that the NSA:

-Illegally collected the phone records of millions of Americans;

-Hacked into Google and Yahoo's networks, allowing it to collect online records of millions of their customers, including many Americans;

-Worked to undermine widespread internet security standards, such as those used for encrypting web pages in transit;

-Secretly intercepted Cisco routers bound for overseas customers and installed back doors that allowed it to spy on traffic;

-Helped its counterpart in the United Kingdom collect snapshots from millions of users of a Yahoo webcam chat program, including potentially many Americans;

-Spied on numerous world leaders, including allies like Germany and friendly states like Brazil.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

Thanks to Snowden, we finally have a sense of just how out-of-control the NSA and the government's surveillance regime had become. Thanks to Snowden, we've finally had a public debate about and some modest changes have been implemented, including a curtailing of the NSA's phone program.

Snowden ought to be treated as a whistleblower who performed a profound service for his country and fellow citizens.

Snowden's critics - and they are many - disagree. They say many of the programs exposed by his leaks weren't targeted at Americans and that some had legitimate purposes. They argue his leaks damaged national security by exposing such programs and methods to U.S. adversaries. And they make much of the fact that Snowden has stayed in Russia rather than coming home to face the criminal charges in court.

But those arguments don't hold water. Snowden didn't actually leak any documents to the public, much less to adversaries like Russia. Instead he gave them to journalists, trusting them to make responsible decisions about what was in the public interest to report. You can argue whether they made good calls, but the bottom line is journalists decided what to release, not Snowden.

And what they revealed were widespread abuses, both at home and abroad. Instead of targeted surveillance of particular threats, the NSA had a motto and mentality of "collect it all" on everybody, the privacy of anyone involved be damned.

While it's true that Snowden has sought refuge in Russia, you can blame that on the U.S. government. He was in Moscow trying to get a connecting flight to Ecuador when the Obama administration revoked his passport, stranding him in Russia. Meanwhile, it charged him under the Espionage Act, a draconian, 100-year-old law.

Because of the way it's been written and interpreted, that law wouldn't allow Snowden to defend himself by claiming he was acting as a whistleblower or that his actions were in the public interest. Because he's already admitted to leaking the documents, he would have essentially no defense. Instead of accepting a one-way ticket to prison, Snowden accepted asylum from Russia so that he could continue to play an active public role - including criticizing his Russian hosts for their own surveillance abuses.

You'll note that many of Snowden's revelations affected Silicon Valley companies or the tech industry in general. Indeed, no other industry was touched as deeply as tech. In the wake of the disclosures, many in Silicon Valley expressed shock and outrage. In the years since, many companies have taken very public stands about better securing users' data and communications from the government's prying eyes. Many have even banded together to form a coalition dubbed "Reform Government Surveillance."

But when it comes to the push for a pardon for Snowden, the tech industry has largely been missing in action.

With the Obama administration winding down and a new light being shined on Snowden's actions by Oliver Stone's recently released film about him, Snowden's supporters have renewed and ramped up their long-standing call for a pardon. The ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been joined by dozens of prominent business leaders, activists, actors, academics, artists, analysts, journalists and policymakers.

But you won't find Tim Cook's name on the list of pardon supporters, nor Larry Page's. Nor will you find Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Cisco's Chuck Robbins and Microsoft's Satya Nadella. The only current CEO of a major tech company on the list is Jack Dorsey, co-founder of both Twitter and Square. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is the only other prominent Silicon Valley representative to support a pardon.

That's pathetic. It's great to hear tech companies say they stand for privacy, but it would be more convincing if those companies stood up for the guy who was brave enough to expose the surveillance system and spurred those public stands.

Because before Snowden, the tech community either didn't know the degree to which its customers and systems were being surveilled - or didn't care.

It's time for the to stand up for privacy by standing up for Edward Snowden.

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rderkis
not rated yet Sep 30, 2016
I listened to one Snowdens speeches. The first part was both truthful and insightful. He talked about how the powers at the top use their power to keep themselves in power. We saw that with the way the democrat part leaders manipulated us against Sanders and the way the republican leaders tried to manipulate us against Trump, That is wrong!
But then he went on to say a lot about breaking privacy laws and that is why he did what he did.
These are TWO totally separate issues. The intelligence agencies were not breaking or skirting the law for anyone's personal gain. They were doing their best to protect us even if it meant putting their carriers in jeopardy! Or their freedom by going to jail. They are the real heroes.

As far as privacy, we have been hood winked into believing privacy is part of our freedom. Nowhere in the constitution or amendments to the constitution does it mention privacy.
RealScience
not rated yet Sep 30, 2016
As far as privacy, we have been hood winked into believing privacy is part of our freedom. Nowhere in the constitution or amendments to the constitution does it mention privacy.


The constitution's fourth amendment says "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

While this does not use the word 'privacy', the NSA clearly violated that right of security from unreasonable searches and seizures by searching the records (the equivalent of 'papers') of citizens without warrants specifically describing what they were searching, and without probable cause for snooping on most citizens.
Duude
not rated yet Oct 01, 2016
No matter your feeling about what Snowden did, a pardon would only invite others to release more secure communications making US security largely unmanageable. Yes, I suppose we can imagine some sort of utopia where the government no longer uses spies or conducts counter-espionage, but that won't change the reality in which we live. Perhaps, we could retire the CIA and publicly shame all other countries that fail to follow us. Yeah, that's the ticket.
RealScience
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2016
Snowden's main actions do not need a pardon - he just needs to be recognized as a whistle-blower who rightfully exposed wrong-doing. Why should he be 'pardoned' for doing the right thing?
Whistleblowers are supposed to be praised for having the courage to speak up about wrong doing, and that is what Snowden did - great if that encourages others to do the same when the government BREAKS THE LAW.

When the government is within the law, that's another matter entirely. Some of the things that Snowden exposed are legal, and Snowden should not have exposed those. For those he should probably receive a commuted sentence in recognition of the good that he did in exposing the illegal crap.

A third issue is what the laws should be. We can argue about whether the laws (starting with the constitution) are the best laws to have and how much surveillance the laws should permit the government to conduct, but whatever the law is, the government should not be above it.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2016
No matter your feeling about what Snowden did, a pardon would only invite others to release more secure communications making US security largely unmanageable.

And what would be wrong with that? If they release unlawful doings then that should be applauded - not hidden away behind 'security concerns'.
If all of the security is for *legitimate* and *legal* reasons then pople like Snowden wouldn't do what they did (and he has stated so on numerous occasions - not least in the documentary Citizenfour). Their point is not to expose secret doings. Their point is to expose illegitimate/illegal secret doings.

Why should he be 'pardoned' for doing the right thing?

Right on. Same as with the other story a few days ago (Turing being 'pardoned' by the Queen for having been convicted of being a homosexual...what's to pardon?)

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