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Edward Snowden and the Importance of Privacy

Edward Snowden has been called both a traitor and a hero, a whistleblower and an advocate for human rights. But, he insists, the narrative he’s so inextricably intertwined in shouldn’t really be about him at all.

On Wednesday, February 17, the line to get into Shriver Hall stretched across multiple quads. Students and public alike poured into the building until it reached capacity, eager to see Snowden speak via live stream from Russia, where he currently lives in asylum. All of this to listen to a man who says his opinion doesn’t actually matter.

Maybe we shouldn’t care about who this man is, but we do. And, hearing about Snowden’s history, who he is seems to matter. His grandfather had worked for the CIA, his father was in the Coast Guard, and his mother worked in the courts system. Snowden himself joined the military and worked for the CIA before getting his position with the NSA.

The point? Edward Snowden is a man who trusted and respected the federal government.

Now? He’s not as sure. We’re at a crossroads as a nation, he explained, pointing to the current conflict between Apple and the federal government. Snowden pointed out that there are ways for the government to easily access the contents of an iPhone without unlocking it.

Furthermore, the contents of this phone, belonging to one of the San Bernadino shooters, are probably all but worthless. Two destroyed phones were also recovered, implying that the one in the government’s possession was likely meant to be found.

The case isn’t really about the contents of an iPhone at all, Snowden concludes. It’s about the reach of power held by the federal government, and we, as a nation, have to decide how far we want that reach to go.

In June of 2013, Snowden decided that the government had reached too far. While working for the NSA, Snowden gradually found more and more evidence of the government collecting and storing citizen’s private data, from phone calls to online communications.

Despite the progress and reform that has resulted from Snowden’s actions, he remains exiled in Russia for leaking what he found.

What he hopes for now is that the conversation about privacy and security continues to be an important one, in which the people and the government both have a voice. Part of that conversation, he hopes, will include a fair trial for himself, in which he can make a public interest defense before a jury, explaining the importance of his actions.

Though Snowden may be living in Russia for now, he holds onto hope that he will not die in Russia. Despite his tumultuous relationship with the USA, Edward Snowden still believes in this country, and he wants to come home.

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