Two years ago, Edward Snowden changed our understanding of the world, revealing the extraordinary extent to which the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand devoted massive resources to attempting to obtain everything on the internet, unencrypted, through a variety of measures: tapping the undersea cables that carry internet traffic; coercing the world’s biggest IT companies into giving them access to users’ data; bulk collection of metadata; efforts to undermine encryption standards online; and attempts to use app stores to distribute malware — just for starters.
These vast surveillance programs are justified by their perpetrators and governments as necessary defences in the War on Terror. But former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and president Dilma Rousseff of Brazil are hardly terrorists. Indonesian trade negotiators are not terrorists. The Brazilian resources company Petrobras, the German engineering company Siemens — they don’t fund terrorism. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is no terrorist, she is a conservative ally of the United States.
All were spied on, and many more, demonstrating that this surveillance is not about protecting us from terrorism, but about the commercial interests of US and Australian companies. Recall that even the handpicked panel appointed by Barack Obama to review the NSA’s surveillance programs — a move that occurred only because of Edward Snowden’s revelations — was unable to find any evidence anything yielded by these programs had stopped a single terrorist attack.
For his bravery in revealing this vast scandal, Snowden has been smeared, pursued across the globe and forced to seek refuge in Russia — although that hasn’t stopped him from questioning Vladimir Putin’s mass surveillance programs, either. Even as Obama signed into law restrictions on the NSA that came directly from Snowden’s revelations via the floor of Congress, Obama’s Justice Department was continue to plan how it would prosecute Snowden if it were ever able to get its hands on him.
Far from being a traitor, or irresponsible, or (most absurdly) an enemy agent, Snowden is a modern hero who has changed the world by showing us the truth. Future generations will see him in exactly that light, regardless of the efforts by western governments to vilify him.