We owe a lot to Edward Snowden. At the moment the impact of what he has done remains unclear as the shockwaves from Prism, the biggest whistleblowing case in US history, echo around the world, but it will become evident over the weeks and months to come. It makes Watergate look like some stolen office pens. What kind of person does it take to do something that explosive, to risk losing his life and liberty? He has said he believes it is unlikely that he will ever see home again. He has left behind a large salary, comfortable home, girlfriend and family for an uncertain future.
Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the national intelligence committee, has branded Snowden a traitor - but it is precisely the opposite which often motivates whistleblowers, a sense of moral obligation larger than self-preservation, and a patriotism (either for one's country or organisation) that propels them to challenge groupthink. Whistleblowing of the sort that Snowden has done is selflessness on a level that most of us would not consider - often with risks of losing life, liberty, friends and employment dependent on the scale of the whistleblow. He has sacrificed himself for the truth about the NSA and the government to be exposed. "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant" he said in a note supplied with the original leaked documents.
Whistleblowing takes astounding courage and strength of character. Whistleblowers face demonisation from the government, smear campaigns in the media, losing family and friends and attempts to silence them one way or another. Snowden, in his interview with the Guardian, describes the possibility of being bundled into a US bound plane, people coming after him, or paying off the triads to have him taken care of. He, presumably, knows far better than most of us how distinct a possibility this is, and it may be partly why he has taken pains not to remain anonymous - it will be difficult to dispose of a person the whole world is watching. Despite this, he says he is not afraid, except for his family.
Edward Snowden abandoned his life, job, family and country for the truth, and he has done this for us. We owe him a debt of gratitude for such an act of great courage and selflessness, and we owe him our justified anger against those who have breached our trust. For this is a tremendous breach of our trust - and although Obama claimed on Friday: "You can't have 100% security and then also have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience", this stands against the principle of the Constitution and the spirit of the founding fathers. American Independence was a originally rejection of government interference - albeit of the parliament of Great Britain to rule them without representation. The Declaration of Independence cites the right of everyone to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". This liberty has been violated by the intrusion of the NSA and the Obama administration.
Make no mistake; the treachery Feinstein refers to was not by Snowden, who in the ultimate act of patriotism has sacrificed the liberty held in such esteem by the founding fathers for the country he loves and the ideals it stands for, but instead by the NSA and the Obama Administration. In the UK we are fortunate that an Orwellian state is not in the advanced stages it is in the US, but as we have seen often what begins there follows elsewhere. We owe him our gratitude, and if the tide of secrecy begins to turn, our liberty and our privacy.
The last words Edward Snowden spoke in his week of interviews with the Guardian were from Benjamin Franklin: "Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."