What Edward Snowden Has Given Us

from the age-of-the-whistleblower dept

When Edward Snowden first revealed himself as the source of the NSA leaks, the Guardian released a short video interview with him in which he made the following confession:

"The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests."
Less than a week later, Glenn Greenwald was asserting that Snowden's worst fear had not been realized. That same claim was made somewhat more plausibly a few days ago by Philip Bump, writing in The Atlantic under the headline "Edward Snowden is Winning." Even if you don't agree with that optimistic assessment, the narrowness of the defeat of the Amash Amendment shows how far things have come in a few weeks.

But just as interesting as the fact that the debate is taking place, exactly as Snowden hoped, are the collateral benefits that are flowing from his leaks. Jay Rosen has gathered together a number of examples, part of what he calls The Snowden Effect:

Direct and indirect gains in public knowledge from the cascade of events and further reporting that followed Edward Snowden's leaks of classified information about the surveillance state in the U.S.
An interesting post by danah boyd suggests that there may be another important knock-on effect from Snowden's actions:
He's creating a template for how to share information. He's clearly learned from previous whistleblowers and is using many of their tactics. But he's also forged his own path which has had its own follies. Regardless of whether he succeeds or fails in getting asylum somewhere, he's inspired others to think about how they can serve as a check to power. And this is terrifying for any government.

Ironically, the government's efforts to deter future whistleblowers by being tough on Snowden is most likely to backfire. This kind of zero-tolerance approach assumes that those who are engaging in whistleblowing are operating under the same logic, priorities, and values as government actors. Sure, plenty of people don't come forward because they're too scared; that's not new. But because of how the government responded to Snowden, those who are willing to take on the big fight now have a model for how to do it, how to iterate based on what they learned watching Snowden. The US government, far from deterring future whistleblowers, has just incentivized a new generation of them by acting like a megalomaniac.
If, as boyd suggests, a new generation of government whistleblowers come forward to carry on the work Snowden began, that would be an even better result for him than simply leading to a few immediate changes, since it would offer the hope that those might be both durable and continuing.

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Filed Under: discussion, ed snowden, leaks, nsa, nsa surveillance, public debate, the snowden effect

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  1. identicon
    NAZI AMERICA, 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:27pm

    truth part 2

    hes given you that you are all fucked and live in a police state and dont tell me otherwise

    end of article and story....
    and that your own so called elected people dont end it ON even yourselves shows exactly how down the rabbit hole you are in it all.

    ITS OVER be a good citizen or else the nazis will get you

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:29pm

    I disagree, the fact that the Amash amendment was defeated, even narrowly, shows that Snowden is losing, and has failed to change anything in how the government operates.

    The only hope at this point to change things is another election, but even now, over a month later, I don't see any electoral wave of backlash over NSA spying building up anywhere, do you? Can you name a single congressman who might lose their job for supporting the NSA's massive spying?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:42pm


    "The only hope at this point to change things is another election"

    The only hope for changing anything is for people to get off their asses and onto the streets in mass protest. Signing online petitions and emailing representatives seems to accomplish nothing. Even elections seem to change nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    jameshogg (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:43pm

    This may sound rather suicidal, but I think one of the greatest things Edward Snowden could do at this moment in time is go back to the United States and accept any challenges the government throws at him.

    Trust me when I say that it would be the tipping point.

    Many of the great dissenters of the world have had to turn to civil disobedience in one form or another, and have had to spend time in prison to fight for what is right. There comes a point where more than protest is required.

    You can rest assured that even more of a media storm around Snowden is the last thing NSA supporters want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:58pm


    Given they would almost certainly give him the Manning treatment, locking him up for a few years 'to make sure they had the case ready'(or whatever the excuse would be) in the hopes that people would forget about him, not sure how much good that would do.

    Of course the very act of imprisonment without charge could very well end up being the 'tipping point' you mention, so who knows?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, 25 Jul 2013 @ 12:59pm

    Not much, actually. -- Oh, it's potentially useful to publicize,

    but he's put out NOTHING that I didn't know for years solely from other press accounts. All I've done is keep my eyes open without ignoring evidence from thinking it normal to be spied on -- by Google or any other part of the control grid.

    But as the first post says in other words, he's only got the dolts somewhat up to speed on how surveilled they are.

    Two points on the notion this will inspire others: first, he can be snatched and punished harshly enough to have the intended effect; 2nd, that assumes this isn't an intended limited hangout. In latter case, we may indeed see more such "whistleblowers" whether Snowden is real or not: just as in the novel "1984", a series of internal enemies are not only found but recruited (Winston becomes one); a police state needs enemies and will create them if needed. -- 3rd, THREE points: already plenty of fascists calling for MORE surveillance, that TOO is an opportunity Snowden has provided...

    Who knows what's real any more? Much of the deception is based on giving people the illusion that there even is opposition, but can bet your last inflated paper dollar that they've thought ahead to handle that problem too. -- For example, look what happened to Scott Ritter when he tried to blow the whistle on the phony WMD hunt in Iraq: child pornography was "found" on his computer. Or David Kelly in England: went out for a walk and "suicided". Or Julian Assange (whether a knowing agent or not): he's holed up in an embassy because wanted for alleged charges.

    By the way, this is so obvious that I haven't mentioned: but IF Snowden HAD a "deadman switch" to drop information that'd do in much of the US intelligence system, then EVERY intelligence in the world, and the alleged "al-Qaeda", would be trying to kill him so as to activate it! That he's still alive is proof that those intelligence agencies agree with me that he's a plant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 1:03pm


    has failed to change anything in how the government operates.

    Yet. Patience, friend. In every successful sea-change in the past, it looked like nothing was having much of a policy effect until the very last moment.

    The only hope at this point to change things is another election

    An election won't change this. Voting is necessary, but insufficient to create change. Such is as it has always been.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Jay (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 1:11pm


    Elections are always sloppy. That's not the best way to represent change. The best way is actual protest against the measures that have become the norm. SOPA was defeated by actual protest. When FDR caused austerity on the public, the people rose up because the jobs were gone and they eventually recognized that enough was enough.

    People are so focused on the NSA spying that they've forgotten that the real problem is the military complex running it. The enemy is Keith Alexander who can put pressure on Democrats to fold and maintain the status quo. It's the James Clappers who can lie to the public while insulting the intelligence of the people. It's the Mike Rogers who are taunting the public to grow up and take him out of office as well as imprison him for bribery.

    It's the public that's supposed to be served. Their interests, not special interests.

    Can you name a single congressman who might lose their job for supporting the NSA's massive spying?

    Odds are, these are people on their way out. With all of the bribery and lobbying going around, it's just become too obvious that things are about to change in a large way. I just think that people are about to get out while the getting is good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2013 @ 1:13pm

    Snowden's never coming back to the United States... alive, and I don't blame him. It's not like he would get a fair trial. It's not like he could accomplish more in prison than he can remaining outside prison.

    I really don't get people's logic behind asking Snowden to return to America. It hasn't worked out very well for Manning...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2013 @ 1:27pm


    I think you will find that american prisons are good at shutting up inmates.
    If Snowden should turn himself in, it would be closer to the next presidential election and in a storm of further releases from his substantial collection. If you believe him, he is fully capable of keeping the secret service agents out of trouble. The publics trust in him could - in that case - fuel an election campaign.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    jameshogg (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 1:55pm

    Re: Re:

    American prisons cannot shut up Glenn Greenwald.

    And they most definitely cannot shut up Reddit and Twitter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    lfroen (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 2:00pm

    Police states fall, too

    Soviet Union was very real police state. And the day come, and it fell. Once money stream ended, empire was no more.
    See, you can't maintain huge army (and NSA-CIA is also "army") without lots of money.
    Only when people will be starved, change will suddenly happen. Since US people have weird "right" to pile up guns, this change will not be pretty.

    In the end, people will die and empire will fall. That was a fate of _every single empire_ for millennia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jul 2013 @ 2:20pm

    The biggest problem with this campaign to stop the NSA verses the campaign to stop SOPA was the phone call verses the petition.
    A representatives office says you had 2,580 phone calls against this. Barely one line of information. Easy to ignore as unimportant.
    The petition on the other hand sends 2,580,000 individually signed online petitions, boxed and delivered to the office for him/her to deal with.
    Anyone in support of your cause will sign a petition but a rare few will pick up the phone and call.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Virulina, 25 Jul 2013 @ 2:49pm

    It is better to be feared than loved...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Digitari, 25 Jul 2013 @ 3:51pm


    however, love is universally accepted............

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 25 Jul 2013 @ 6:31pm

    Only when the NSA surveilance programs are shut down and permanently criminalized...

    Only when the FISC and legal secret courts have been made impossible...

    Only when examples are made of those who pushed these changes to happen (no matter how benign their original intent)...

    Only when police cameras become public access, and civilian cameras are respected by law enforcement...

    Only when law officers are penalized for their behavior equally to civilians...

    Only when national governments accept (as was ruled in '96 by SCOTUS) that the internet is beyond their jurisdiction...

    Only then will public trust be restored to the government of the United States.

    A shorter path is that of insurrection, and it appears to have already begun. Fortunately, the mischief makers have something of a sense of humor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2013 @ 1:41am

    "Edward Snowden is Winning"

    yes you just keep telling yourself that, if it makes you feel better.

    Public does not care, congress does not agree with you (and are powerless even if they did). And you claim a victory ?

    But by all means live under the fantasy they any of this is going to make one bit of difference.

    Been as post, Snowden has been promoted to immaterial along with Assange.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2013 @ 1:43am


    2,580,000 less that 1% of your population !!!..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2013 @ 6:05am


    'Failed to change anything in how the government operates' other than getting an an amendment that wouldn't even have been drafted much less voted on before a hearing on the house floor? We came this close to defunding the NSA. That's a pretty big change in a very small amount of time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    TaCktiX (profile), 26 Jul 2013 @ 9:48am

    Re: Re:

    But Snowden is a civilian. With Manning they could hide behind the military's rules of procedure. It will be much more difficult to do the same for Snowden.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 26 Jul 2013 @ 10:12am


    It is better to be loved than feared. Those who fear you will eventually attack you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 26 Jul 2013 @ 10:16am

    Re: "Edward Snowden is Winning"

    Public does not care, congress does not agree with you

    [citation needed]

    And you claim a victory ?

    Nobody claimed a victory. "Is winning" means "on the way to victory", not "victory has been achieved".

    From my perspective, Snowden is winning. His stated goals have been partially accomplished, and there is no sign that the trend will change anytime soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Ninja (profile), 26 Jul 2013 @ 11:01am

    Re: Re: "Edward Snowden is Winning"

    Again they seem to fail to realize Snowden is but one actor of a greater play where the ideas are at work. They are probably still thinking Anonymous is some sort of organized North Korean epic hackers fucking everything up behind their green phosphorous screens...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    ehcross, 30 Aug 2013 @ 10:11am

    Edward Snowden is winning, but not all is lost

    NSA´s Edward Snowden is winning, for him. But his actions have exposed strategic US secrets, thus endangering all Americans, and has effectively put his country´s security in doubt.

    But not all is lost. The USA still has the capacity to defend itself and to avoid a new 9/11. The tool is known as PRISM and it is said to be able to detect any threat, anywhere. Having lost Snowden, loaded with a treasure trove of highly classified information is a disaster indeed, and requires better communication with the American people so they all understand what we are fighting against and why the country needs tapping to be able to respond to any threat, Al-Qaeda´s style, or any other. Edward Snowden has hit the U.S. hard. But the U.S. will win, as long as we persist, and as long as no traitors are allowed close by.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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