Like a lot of the folks who walked into Laidlaw Hall last night, I had mixed feelings about Edward Snowden. (And if emails from a few angry Old Boys are any indication, “mixed” might be the most pleasant way of describing how some alumni viewed UCC’s hosting the world’s most famous fugitive!)
Snowden’s argument is simple and straightforward: while surveillance is necessary (Remember he did work for the NSA), it needs to be limited because the unchecked accumulation of “mega-data” can undermine our democratic values. “If these (surveillance) agencies aren’t accountable to the public, then to whom are they accountable?”
The larger issue Snowden presents is as old as Antigone. What does an individual do when he believes the government’s laws are unjust? Snowden reminded us that Mandela went to jail for breaking the laws of South African apartheid.
As bright and cheerful as Snowden was – despite the fact that it was 4:30 am Moscow time—I found myself wondering about the price he has paid, and the price he may still need to pay for following his conscience. As clear as his thesis was last night, Snowden’s message might be more convincing if he were willing to meet the full cost that civil disobedience demands.