Since leaking details of the UK/US intelligence communities’ techniques, Snowden has garnered a varied response in the past two years. He is possibly one of the most divisive figures of this decade. But is he a traitor, or a saviour?
A recent article in The Sunday Times claimed that western intelligence agencies, including MI6 (the UK’s intelligence service), have been forced to withdraw agents from “hostile countries” after “Moscow [and Beijing] gained access to more than one million classified files” stolen by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. These revelations come after the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said in March that the leaks have caused “damage” to the United Kingdom’s security, having “an impact on the ability of our agencies to do the work they need to do”.
Edward Snowden has successfully brought to light, the unlawful, mass surveillance techniques used by the world’s intelligence communities. However, this has come at a price; Snowden’s irresponsible actions have potentially put hundreds of our intelligence operatives lives in danger.
For those of you familiar with my articles and political leaning, this may come as a surprise to you. I condemn Edward Snowden’s actions in the strongest possible terms. Whilst I acknowledge that he has brought to light some very important issues, I also believe that he has been irresponsible and reckless about such a sensitive area as national security. I am on the horns of a dilemma; the raging libertarian inside me cries out against the systematic abuse of privacy carried out by the intelligence community, yet my more level headed, political core is telling me that I would rather be spied on and safe, than not spied on and at risk. “I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry?” the politician inside me reasons.
Were we living in a society where people were being arrested for opposing a certain view, then perhaps I would think differently. But we don’t. We live in a pluralist society, in which a massive spectrum of views is tolerated, and democracy is already laid deep in our foundations. The mass collection of data, whilst it is probably wrong, not to mention illegal, seems only to protect these principles. If someone visits an extremist website of a group that seeks to destroy democracy, they will not be arrested. It is only when they actually begin to act on these views, that they will be detained. I am more angered and worried by large corporations like Google knowing everything about me, than I am my own government. Our government has good reason to gather data about its citizens – it cannot financially gain from knowing where we are or what we’re doing. A corporation, on the other hand, can use this information to their own gains, under the guise of a “more helpful and easy user experience” through ‘suggested items to buy’ or such schemes. What gives companies the right to gather data in such a manner? At least our government is democratically elected and uses the data to protect us.
Snowden’s actions have endangered the lives of the people that are working to keep our country safe. This isn’t the first time that Snowden’s actions have actually hindered the ability of our government to keep us safe – last year The Telegraph revealed GCHQ, the Government’s listening post, had “lost track of some of the most dangerous crime lords” and was forced to halt surveillance on others after Snowden thrust the doors of secrecy wide open. It was reported by The Telegraph that the spy agency was subject to “significant” damage in its ability to keep tabs on serious organised criminals after Snowden’s revelations. Intelligence officers have been blinded to over one quarter of the criminal activities of the “UK’s most harmful crime gangs” after being forced to change tactics.
However, it is important to note, the Home Office admitted, no one has yet to be harmed as a direct result. The Guardian also posed several questions to the government, which questioned the validity of The Sunday Times article. With anything regarding national security, we can’t take anything to be gospel due to the secrecy surrounding the whole issue. It is the same secrecy that causes such fear and distrust of the security services. But it also the same secrecy that allows them to keep us safe, from those who would harm our nation and its citizens.
If the claims from The Sunday Times article that lists sources from Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services turn out to be true, then we should be very worried. We should be worried that those tasked with protecting our nation, and its interests abroad, have been forced to halt their work thanks to carelessness on the part of Edward Snowden. Thanks to Edward Snowden, every single one of us is slightly more informed, a little bit less safe and a little bit more vulnerable to those who wish to harm us. It’s up to you to decide; would you prefer ignorance and safety, or enlightenment and uncertainty?