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Snowden gets temporary asylum in Russia
August 1, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
I'll come right out and say it: I'm glad that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. I hope the U.S. Justice Department never gets its hands on him.
Snowden's interview with The Guardian revealed the breach of all of our civil liberties by the National Security Agency. According to Snowden, the NSA has been mining so-called metadata about all of our cell phone usage for at least the past seven years. Granted, the metadata supplied reveals only the time and place of the phone call and from which cell phone the call has been made, information that the NSA says it needs to help prevent terrorist attacks, but that can still tell the NSA more than I really want it to know about me. I think an individual warrant for that information should be required and that the warrant should only be granted in cases where there is some evidence a crime has been committed. Why should the NSA have a record in its database of how many times I called my mother or where I was calling from? Yesterday, The Guardian published another piece based on Snowden's leaks. Snowden talks about another program called XKeyscore that gives the NSA the ability to search through huge data bases that include e-mails, chat logs and Internet browsing history of millions of users.
As for Congress, it is apparently hunky dory with the National Security Agency's various surveillance programs and is going to let it continue to operate as usual. NSA officials also continue to defend their surveillance efforts and other activities under the Patriot Act as necessary for national defense. The Patriot Act, passed after 9/11, allows for "sneak and peek" warrants permitting law enforcement to break into your home without your knowledge, look around to see if there's anything there, and then use what they saw to obtain a traditional search warrant. The Patriot Act also gave the government the right to snoop through your library check-out records. It also allows law enforcement to obtain roving wire taps, which greatly expanded law enforcement's ability to spy on your phone use, since a surveillance court order need not specify all common carriers and third parties.
On the plus side, Congress is pondering a shield law for journalists that would provide them with greater protection from government snooping while doing their jobs. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have had a bad habit on snooping on journalists' phone records and home computers as of late. However, certain members of Congress want the right to be able to define what a journalist is. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's version of the bill would exclude organizations like WikiLeaks, the website that exposed U.S. classified information leaked by Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, and presumably online bloggers, according to an Associated Press story.
Manning, incidentally, is about to be sentenced on 20 separate charges, including espionage and theft, and is looking at up to life in prison. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, trying to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault of two women he had encounters with there. Presumably, he would risk extradition to the United States and trial here if he does get extradited to Sweden. Wikileaks officials have also aided Snowden in his efforts to gain political asylum and avoid extradition to the United States. U.S. officials, of course, take the position that leakers like Snowden and Manning and Assange have done incalculable damage to national security. They may well be right. I don't think Manning or Assange or Snowden are completely blameless. Clearly, some things must remain classified in order to keep the nation safe. But I also continue to be outraged by the government's ongoing surveillance of ordinary Americans who are not suspected of any crime. There are some freedoms that Americans should not be so willing to give up in the name of security.
It's just rather ironic that Snowden has found his refuge in a place like Russia instead of America, which likes to call itself the land of the free.
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