Whistleblower Snowden Is Tech Person of the Year

"They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, for the Pennsylvania Assembly, in its reply to the governor, 1755.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the American people, through their elected representatives in Washington, chose to exchange a significant amount of freedom for safety.

But until a lone information-technology contractor named Edward Snowden leaked a trove of National Security Agency documents to the media this summer, we didn't know just how much we'd surrendered.

Now that we do, our nation can have a healthy debate -- out in the open, as a democracy should debate -- about how good a bargain we got in that exchange.

For facilitating that debate, at great risk to his own personal liberty, Snowden is this column's technology person of the year for 2013.

While a long line of so-called leaders of the tech industry were repeating the smug mantra that "there is no privacy" -- all while secretly cooperating with the NSA's surveillance program -- Snowden risked prosecution and jail to give Americans the chance to choose for themselves whether it still matters in the digital age.

Secrecy has long been a favorite tool of totalitarian regimes that want to stifle internal political debate.

Secret courts were a staple of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and used to exile dissidents to Siberian gulags.

They are still used today by China's communist government to silence its critics.

The U.S. also has secret courts, first created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

The FISA court was set up to allow American intelligence agencies to track foreign agents without allowing those agents to know about it, as they would if the warrant for monitoring their communications had to be approved in a public court.

On its surface, that rationale sounds reasonable.

Yet, like...

Comments are closed.