I fully support the thought that when entrusted with secrets by the government at the highest levels it is a fundamental duty not to betray that trust, which is why I understand your position regarding Snowden even though I wholeheartedly disagree with it. There are moments when this trust can and should be violated when moral and legal objections are clear.
The mass collection of phone meta data, and more importantly the tapping of the internet at major commercial junction points, is a clear violation of the Constitution by any objective measure. Upon learning that his government was violating its own founding principles, Snowden acted by publicly identifying himself, giving up a comfortable lifestyle, and leaving the country in order to shed light on these issues. Many others with access and knowledge and perhaps even sharing similar objections chose to keep quiet and continue cashing their paychecks. It's clear to me which path was the more honorable one.
Snowdens' choice to go to the press with the information rather than attempt to go through formal channels was the most likely means to produce results by bringing at least a limited transparency to what was happening. It is naive to believe that there were internal channels by which he could have blown the whistle on this activity that would have been productive. Even members of the congressional oversight committees have admitted their knowledge of and authority to stop these programs was limited, and the secret FISA court itself has expressed concerns that they were not being told the truth about what was happening and the potential for abuse of the data being collected.
It’s also clear to me that the contention that these revelations somehow changed our adversary’s tactics is ridiculous. Only at the lowest levels do uninformed terrorists actively communicate on the open internet. This is clearly indicated by the communication patterns of senior Al Qaeda leadership and even Bin Laden himself who was living off the grid completely for fear of surveillance. This of course raises the question about the true usefulness of the data at all.
A recent story about the intelligence term "LoveInt", a term used to describe how some analysts have used intelligence data sources to track “acquaintances” underscores the real concern in my eyes: Simply having such massive repositories at all is wrong and opens the door to potential abuses now and in the future. Imagine this capability in the hands of a Nixon administration for example. If the government has cause to chase down someone's activities online they should do it the right way: Get a court order subject to an opposing privacy argument, subpoena specific information from the relevant companies, and maintain a clear chain of custody for any data provided.
Snowdens' actions have jump started the conversation. Now we need more heroes to continue the discussion and help shape the world we wish to live in rather than simply accepting a surveillance state as the new normal.
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