Dear President Obama,
Before I begin my argument for why you should pardon Edward Snowden, bring him home, and let him continue his mission and life’s work, I want to tell you how much I admire you for your moral leadership over the past eight years. You’ve consistently helped to mold the nation’s moral directive, adapting it to our ever-evolving society and leading by sterling example. I honestly wish that the 22nd amendment hadn’t been created so that you may continue to steer our country. But the constitution was amended for a reason, just as it was time and time again, to protect the citizens of this nation from a tyrannical government.
The act of rebelling against tyranny and oppression is the fiber comprising the helix of American DNA. Each and every moral position that we have held over the years throughout our storied and often troubled history has been rooted in the idea that the government is an extension of the people and not the other way around. The Constitution protects us, the people, from unlawful search and seizure. It guarantees certain protections for privacy. And it protects our rights to arm ourselves to fight against what we perceive as tyranny, even if that tyranny comes from our own government.
Whether we agree or not with those principles, that is the law of our land. While we may revisit those laws, debate their merits and eventually change them, no one – especially not the government – may break those laws.
The NSA and Prism and Five Eyes and other mass surveillance programs were found by the courts to be in violation of our civil liberties. The government broke the law, repeatedly, spying on each and every one of us for years via technology and telecommunications companies until someone involved paused. That someone took a moment to ask himself not is what we are doing here right, not is it moral or necessary or useful, but he asked himself, is this constitutional?
We try to address the impossible question of how much privacy are we willing to abdicate for better security. In our modern times when wars no longer have front lines and terrorists are American citizens, we would be naive to think that there should not be surveillance programs in place. There absolutely must be ways of watching people we suspect of planning to kill our citizens.
When a terrorist attack happens, in Paris or New York or Istanbul or Karachi we all ask ourselves, is this our modern reality now? How can we prevent it from happening again?
Mass surveillance might seem like an answer, but our justice system is very clear. We prefer to not catch a guilty person than convict an innocent citizen. Because if we fail to catch a criminal, justice is not served. When we incarcerate an innocent person, we as a nation commit an injustice.
In a time of pressure cooker bombs in Chelsea, assault rifle attacks in Orlando or a stabbing in St Paul, we need to adapt as a society to find a way to protect our national security. Technology is probably a very large part of that answer, Edward Snowden only wanted to do it legally.
But international and domestic terrorists are not the only menaces that America faces. Our history is littered with examples of the powers that be conducting risky business for the sake of profits, often with a complete disregard for the law, environment, or the public wellbeing. Risky lending by the banks caused financial crises. Sugar companies paid Harvard scientists to blame obesity on fat. Gasoline companies contended that lead was not harmful. Cigarette companies denied for decades that smoking is bad for you. To face these challenges, we need people with courage working at those companies and organizations to step up and point out when something illegal is going on. Without the leaks and whistle blowers, we as a society are too easily manipulated by larger forces that overpower our singular and collective voices. We cannot blindly trust everyone and everything to act in the best interest of society. We must have systems in place to protect people who point out illegal activity, especially if it breaches a contract or oath. Those systems will breed the confidence for people to come forward, without fear of reprisal or without the fear of ending up in exile in Russia.
Edward Snowden is not a moral leader. Whether or not mass surveillance in the name of civil protection is morally right or wrong is a debate with no definitive answer. But any citizen with a working knowledge of our constitution and common laws can tell when something is illegal. Edward Snowden is a symbol of courage because he decided that his loyalty lay not with his employer, but with the people he served, and continues to serve today.
That courage is what we need more of today. Edward Snowden’s courage brought about real change. It spurred the long over-due conversation about information on the Internet. He changed how people view their personal data, how companies use it, and what people can do to make smarter decisions about the information they put online. The world is becoming digitized so quickly that we haven’t had the time to take a step back and ask ourselves: are we doing this the right way? Edward Snowden made us ask ourselves that very question. He should be thanked for it.
I urge you, Mr. President, to revisit the application of the Espionage Act of 1917. I urge you to objectively consider what Edward Snowden did, who he did it for, and why. Because this will not be the last time that the government abuses its power. Nor will it be the last time that laws are broken by private organizations. I urge you, Mr. President, to demonstrate that America is not a country of black and white, that we consider the facts before we condemn, that we seek the greater truth before passing judgement.
I urge you, Mr. Preseident, to display the courage that Edward Snowden showed. For if you do not, we will foster a culture of fear and secrecy that discourages the sort of courage that Edward Snowden displayed, and we will all suffer for it.
Please, bring him home, and let him continue his important work.
With all of my respect,
– Tony Hymes
Paris, September 30th, 2016