Lyons: Land of the Free and the Home of the Secret

This is the United States of America, so for the time being, you’re free to think whatever you’d like about National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaking information on the federal government’s massive phone and Internet monitoring.

Think what you’d like, although if you intend to share those thoughts among a few individuals in an email, keep in mind that federal authorities can retrieve it pretty easily.

Is Snowden a traitor? Is he a hero? In his words, he’s neither, and so far I’m inclined to agree. What Snowden did is illegal and obviously got him fired, but we could still have a reasonable debate about the ethics of his actions.

What was revealed in the Guardian piece was the scope of the NSA’s data mining. The fact that such data mining was happening should surprise no one. Americans are willing to tolerate many actions we would otherwise consider civil liberties violations in the name of a War on Terror.

If Americans get outraged at all, it’s when they see that their civil liberties are being violated and particularly if the guy in the White House is not their guy. Some Republicans were cool with George W. Bush as Big Brother just as many Democrats place too much trust in Barack Obama.

Regardless, we now know what we know. Of course, every American does not need to know and should not know all details of how authorities gather their information to help protect this country.

But we’re also adults, and it’s healthy to debate the generalities of what should be allowed and what should not. That debate can’t begin until Americans know what’s happening, and only totalitarians of the types in nations who harbor terrorists would forbid such a debate.

If you’re sitting on the fence mulling a reaction, the best way to get knocked over the fence is to listen to politicians. You can’t truly understand how stupid something is until it’s articulated by someone who holds a key elected office. This particular talent is universal and bipartisan.

“I don’t look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it’s an act of treason,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters.

The even better line came from Peter King, R-N.Y., who is not only willing to throw out the Fourth Amendment to fight terror but appears willing to light the First Amendment on fire, too.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked King whether he believed that journalists should also be prosecuted for reporting on these matters. Not even the wackiest politicians had a response like King’s during the height of the WikiLeaks scandal.

“If they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think action should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude,” King said.

So, based on King’s shrewd analysis, Richard Nixon would have been able to get a second term and we might still be fighting the Vietnam War since the Pentagon Papers would still be sitting in prison with Daniel Ellsberg.

The notion that somehow real terrorists were unaware of the U.S. government’s ability to monitor their emails or phone calls because of Snowden or journalist Glenn Greenwald’s actions is ridiculous pandering from politicians from both sides of the aisle.

If there’s anything Americans should be outraged about, it’s the authoritarian lengths those like King would attempt to go to in the interest of protecting the government from the people instead of the people from terrorists.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH. 

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