• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Bring Snowden Home

He shouldn't be treated as an enemy of the state.



July 31, 2016

My hand to G-d, I included a sentence at the end of a draft of my last blog about the Russian hack of the DNC servers, “And Trump is falling for it hook, line and sinker” that I deleted before I sent the final to be posted.  Why infuse an international issue with domestic election politics? And then Trump opened the door. I can add nothing more in the critique against his ridiculously ill-advised invitation for the Russian government to hack U.S. servers than that expressed by the New York Times Editorial Board entitled, “What Was Mr. Trump Thinking?”

It is not treason. It is constitutionally protected free speech. Nonetheless, the remarks further call into question Mr. Trump’s commitment to democracy, his understanding of what it means to be commander in chief and his fitness to lead. He was, in effect, urging Russia to commit a crime that would damage national security.

 Speaking of international security, privacy and cybersecurity, I do have a thought: Bring Mr. Snowden home.  

For two years now I have included “CitizenFour” in the curriculum of my introduction to Internet Law and Policy class. Teaching it in Italy contrasts interestingly to teaching it in the U.S. Europeans are far more suspect of American communications surveillance that the U.S. appears to be. Or maybe hurt is the word. The Italian students I know express something of a disappointment in the United States in regard to these behaviors.  Perhaps they have more hope in the U.S. that we might have for ourselves.  They expect us to model our ideals of freedom and liberty because they come from cultures with a history of what can happen in the extreme when trust is lost. 

The United States can begin to heal its wound, and continue to live up to its own expectations, to offer Mr. Snowden a way home. In light of the Russian hack of the DNC servers, Trump’s reckless encouragement of that behavior, his position on the Balkans and embrace of Putin, relations with Russia grow more serious by the day. It may never have been entirely safe for Snowden to be there, for himself or for the United States, but it is ever more imperative now that he get out of there. 
To the question of whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor, I believe that he is neither. In previous blogs, when his story first broke, I called him naïve. I still believe that of his motives and actions today, even as I recognize other, and some conflicting, qualities in him: highly intelligent, ethical, misguided, infected with a “savior” drive. I do not think he should come home to a hero’s welcome. I do not think he should be thrown in the brig forever. To the degree that he engaged in civil disobedience, he can authenticate that motive with the acceptance of a consequence for stealing and revealing classified information. The government should not treat him with contempt, however, or as an enemy of the state.

 Russia is no longer limbo. It is increasingly becoming a line in the sand on sides defined by ethics, right thinking and behavior for the United States and world peace. If offered reasonable terms to come home that he rejects, Snowden can draw that line. In order for the ball to be in his court to decide, the United States should offer a reasonable option for him to return. 
It behooves President Obama to champion the matter. Obama ran a campaign very critical of the National Security Administration and U.S. government surveillance. In office, he has all but supported a 180-degree turn on those issues. I think I understand. In the executive role, knowing what he does, briefed on matters about which I, and most Americans, do not have a clue, he may have felt that under all the circumstances he was making the right move for the sake of national security. But in this one gesture, he can demonstrate that even if his head is in the right place to err on the side of protection, his heart is also in the right place to understand something equally human in Mr. Snowden. 

Mr. Obama, bring Mr. Snowden back home.


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