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World owes Snowden debt of gratitude

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

08:30, June 14, 2013

There have been raging debates about whether Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, hero, criminal or traitor after the former CIA employee revealed the US National Security Agency's top-secret surveillance program of people's phone, e-mail and Internet records.

But people both inside and outside the United States owe the 29-year-old a thank you for telling them that they are being closely watched by a government that likes to portray itself as a protector of privacy and civil liberties, and a role model for other countries.

Most people, except those at the NSA and a few lawmakers like Dianne Feinstein, chair of the US National Intelligence Committee, were not aware of the surveillance until Snowden exposed it.

Those who want to cast Snowden as a traitor argue that the information he leaked could aid the US' enemies and poses a national security threat. That has been a familiar excuse used in the US since Sept 11, 2001, to scare people into supporting actions they don't necessarily agree with.

Holding prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center without trial and drone attacks in other countries are all conducted in the name of keeping the country safe. However, the morality and legality of such actions have been questioned globally.

Now Snowden has bitterly reminded people in the US of the surveillance society they are living in.

There is no doubt that the Obama administration has been hugely embarrassed by the scandal since the Democratic president has long campaigned for transparency and against the government's overreach during the George W. Bush years.

The phone and Internet companies that have aided the NSA in mining people's phone and e-mail data have also come under public scrutiny. Indeed, such companies as Google, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, Verizon and AT&T have betrayed the trust of people worldwide.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a Verizon Communications client, has already filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in a bid to stop the data gathering and purge any storage of its information.

What is chilling is that the Obama administration has not only denied any wrongdoing, it has vehemently defended the NSA surveillance program as legal and necessary. It is also doing everything it can to hunt down Snowden and charge him with treason.

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