Tuesday, October 01, 2013


Edward Snowden on privacy and the need for an informed public

A culture of secrecy has denied our societies the opportunity to determine the appropriate balance between the human right of privacy and the governmental interest in investigation. These are not decisions that should be made for a people, but only by the people after full, informed, and fearless debate. Yet public debate is not possible without public knowledge, and in my country, the cost for one in my position of returning public knowledge to public hands has been persecution and exile. If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely upon individual sacrifice. We must create better channels for people of conscience to inform not only trusted agents of government, but independent representatives of the public outside of government.”—Edward Snowden

by Larry Geller

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has been moved to the short-list of finalists for this year’s prestigious international human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Parliament announced this week.

[rinf.com, Snowden in Final Running For EU Human Rights Award, 10/1/2013]

Snowden is on the same short list as Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who campaigns for girls’ education after recovering from being shot in the head. If it were my choice, I’d give out two prizes.

“Being named a finalist for the Sakharov Prize befits Mr. Snowden,” stated Beatrice Edwards, Executive and International Director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP). “At tremendous personal cost, Snowden and Sakharov stood up to human-rights abuses by their own country against its own people and we salute them both.”

Snowden’s full testimony at the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee in Brussels on Monday, from which the above pull-quote is taken, can be found at The Work of a Generation (Common Dreams, 10/1/2013).

I support Snowden’s call for an informed public. Unfortunately, one aspect of American “exceptionalism” is an exceptional degree of polarization of our own government against its citizens. That polarization manifests itself in many ways, as we have seen with each of Snowden’s revelations as they dribble out, and also in the government shutdown that affects mainly the poor (Congress continues to pay its salaries even as workers are furloughed). We’re mere pawns in a power-play not of our own making. Note that in this battle, one house of Congress wants to deny millions their basic health care while they keep their “Cadillac” plans.

If the public were better informed, our putative leaders would not get away with any of this. So to keep their game going, we must remain ignorant.

“Race to the Top” and “No Child Left Behind” might produce competent clerks and cashiers, but at the expense of gutting social studies, history, the arts, and other studies necessary for well-rounded, informed citizenship. These “reforms” stifle any chance to teach critical thinking. Life is not a multiple-choice test, nor is participation in government limited to choosing a Republican or a Democratic representative. But that’s the way our leaders like it—a dumbed-down rather than an informed electorate.

Discussion of the Snowden leaks rages in the foreign media, while TV in this country tends more toward debate on whether he is a traitor or a terrorist. Snowden has succeeded in educating the world, but American “exceptionalism” excepts us from that benefit. It’s clear that we prefer to listen to our whistleblowers only as they wail when we torture them.

Should Snowden win the Sakharov Prize, it will be interesting to contrast the comments of the world press with what we will get from Fox “News” on the subject.


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