WASHINGTON, June 22, 2013 — There’s still a long way to go before he faces a trial, but the Justice Department has begun that process by charging National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with espionage and theft of government property in his effort to expose the agency’s widespread monitoring of communications and data of United States citizens.
Snowden has been offered asylum in Iceland and is currently relatively safe in Hong Kong while questions about how he can be extradited are being resolved. These include legal challenges to his extradition, which could be effective based on the argument that his crimes are political in nature, which would exempt him from extradition under the agreement between Hong Kong and the United States. The charges he faces carry a potential penalty of up to 30 years in federal prison.
The charges against Snowden were filed less than a week after his accusations against the NSA were revealed. That he would be charged and charged quickly is not surprising. Some very loud voices in the administration and on Capitol Hill are howling for his head. Yet the anger directed at Snowden in the halls of power pales in comparison to the outrage of citizens towards the government over the widespread disregard of civil liberties which Snowden has made public.
While a number of polls show that most people believe Snowden should be charged for his actions, reaction against the government appears to be equally strong. A Pew Research poll shows a majority supporting prosecution for Snowden, but a similar majority also believing that his actions benefit the public. Among Americans under the age of 30, the numbers skew much more favorably towards Snowden and his actions. Interestingly, opposition to government surveillance programs is significantly stronger among Republicans than it is among Democrats, reversing the trend shown by polls in the immediate post 9/11 period.
It’s easy for the Justice Department to take swift action to prosecute Snowden with security hawks in Congress and the Obama administration cheering them on. Prosecuting people is what they do.
There are also a lot of voices crying out not just for punishment of those responsible for these snooping programs, but also for substantive policy changes regarding surveillance of citizens. Where is the swift sword of justice to strike out on their behalf?
Without the tools and resources of the Justice Department at your command, holding those responsible accountable is a much more challenging and cumbersome process. It requires someone to take responsibility to start an investigation, hold hearings and demand that those who have violated the rights of so many citizens be punished. Who will step forward to be the advocate for the people when their own government has become so careless of their rights? The Justice Department under Eric Holder certainly isn’t going to go after anyone in the NSA, much less the administration.
In an op-ed earlier this week Senator Rand Paul wrote:
“Those who continue to defend the National Security Agency’s actions are essentially saying that something that would be controversial even as an exception-blanket phone trolling by the government-is now the new rule. They are saying it’s OK to spy on citizens’ phone data without a warrant, not just one time or a few times, but all the time. They are saying that suspending the Bill of Rights is now the new normal. In my world, the Constitution still applies.”
Senator Paul has shown a willingness to challenge the congressional establishment and the administration. Perhaps it is time for him to step forward and call for the accountability the people want.
Revealing government secrets is wrong. So is stealing the private information of common citizens, and on a much larger scale.
The scales of justice can only be balanced if every bit of punishment meted out to Snowden is matched by equal punishment for those who have violated our constitutional rights. If he is prosecuted then they should be prosecuted. If he is jailed, then they should be jailed. Justice demands it.
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