Year of Snow­den and his rev­e­la­tions

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

There is no doubt in my mind that for­mer US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den should have been Time mag­a­zine’s Per­son of the Year in 2013. So I was quite sur­prised when the ed­i­tors an­nounced on Wed­nes­day their choice was Pope Fran­cis. Not be­cause I am not Catholic or even re­li­gious. But if the Per­son of the Year is some­one who has done the most to in­flu­ence the world in 2013 for bet­ter or worse, then Snow­den should have had no com­peti­tor this year.

Snow­den’s rev­e­la­tions since early June awak­ened the whole world — gov­ern­ment, cor­po­ra­tions and or­di­nary peo­ple alike.

Peo­ple have re­al­ized that they are un­der mas­sive sur­veil­lance, through var­i­ous NSA pro­grams, such as PRISM, XKeyscore and Tem­pora, and the min­ing of tele­phone meta­data. They have had to re­de­fine the word pri­vacy.

Peo­ple have been de­bat­ing how much of their pri­vacy they should re­lin­quish for the sake of na­tional se­cu­rity, a ra­tio­nale that has been ex­ces­sively abused by politi­cians in the United States over the past decade.

Snow­den’s rev­e­la­tions came as the US was busily at­tempt­ing to la­bel China a ma­jor hacker against the US, and showed that what­ever China or any other coun­try is do­ing in cy­berspace sim­ply pales to in­signif­i­cance com­pared with the ac­tions of the NSA. The NSA has not only hacked into China’s cell phone and tele­com com­pa­nies as well as uni­ver­si­ties and hos­pi­tals, it has also spied on many other coun­tries, in­clud­ing many of its al­lies, as well as 35 world lead­ers.

Last week, Alan Rus­bridger, the ed­i­tor of The Guardian news­pa­per in the United King­dom, said that his pa­per had pub­lished only 1 per­cent of the 58,000 files passed on by Snow­den. If 1 per­cent of Snow­den’s dis­clo­sures are so damn­ing of the US, it’s hard to imag­ine what the im­pact would be if the re­main­ing 99 per­cent is also made pub­lic.

This ex­plains why the US gov­ern­ment went mad af­ter Snow­den’s dis­clo­sure and its fail­ure to press China (more specif­i­cally, the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion) and later Rus­sia, to hand over Snow­den. I never un­der­stood why the US gov­ern­ment would even con­sider the no­tion that other gov­ern­ments would hand over some­one who had just re­vealed the ex­tent to which the US is spy­ing on them.

While Snow­den is widely seen as a hero and a whistle­blower, the US gov­ern­ment and many US politi­cians have tried hard to paint him as a crim­i­nal and traitor. The US fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors have charged Snow­den with vi­o­lat­ing the 1917 Es­pi­onage Act.

The NSA sur­veil­lance is so ram­pant that eight ma­jor US tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, such as Google, Face­book, Ya­hoo and Mi­crosoft, pub­lished an open let­ter in main­stream US news­pa­pers on Mon­day, call­ing for an end to the mas­sive snoop­ing by US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

If not for Snow­den, peo­ple around the world would be liv­ing a lie, blithely be­liev­ing that the pri­vacy of their e-mails, phone calls and other In­ter­net ac­tiv­i­ties were safe­guarded.

I don’t know why Time mag­a­zine did not se­lect Snow­den as the Per­son of the Year. Hope­fully it is not be­cause that the con­tro­ver­sial na­ture of his rev­e­la­tions in­side the US. It is cer­tainly not con­tro­ver­sial at all in the rest of the world.

Un­like Time mag­a­zine, sev­eral other pub­li­ca­tions share the same opin­ion as me. On Mon­day, The Guardian de­clared Snow­den its Per­son of the Year based on a pub­lic vote. In to­tal, Snow­den gar­nered 1,445 votes, while Pope Fran­cis re­ceived only 153.

If the ar­rival of Pope Fran­cis has been a breath of fresh air, the rev­e­la­tions by Snow­den have been an earth­quake whose shock­waves have been felt around the world. Time mag­a­zine got it wrong. There was no one more in­flu­en­tial this year. The au­thor, based in Wash­ing­ton, is deputy ed­i­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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