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No longer land of the free

india Updated: Jul 01, 2013 02:59 IST
Edward Joseph Snowden

Communist and totalitarian regimes guard their power by selective and classified eavesdropping. Those of us who thought that this would not happen in the heartland of democracy, the US, were in for a bit of a surprise when it was revealed that Uncle Sam is second to none in the game.

Edward Joseph Snowden, alarmed by the duplicity of the establishment, decided to share the data he had acquired while working as a technical contractor for the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on its mass surveillance programmes like PRISM and Tempora. After releasing the data Snowden fled to Hong Kong and from there to Russia.

Snowden's is not the first and will by no means be the last case of a whistleblower on the run after exposing the grey areas in which a particular government works without the knowledge of the people of that country. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, who provided the vital information to Assange, are the most prominent recent examples that come to mind. No government is comfortable with a whistleblower. Washington's rage is evident in its slapping charges on Snowden using the Espionage Act — an Act of World War I legacy — though prima facie his actions are neither related to espionage nor are anti-American. What Snowden has done is to effectively pull the mask off the US administration, especially the Obama administration's claims of respecting the civil liberties and privacy of its citizens. That Obama has been increasingly intolerant towards leaks and whistleblowers is evident from the fact that Snowden is the seventh person to be indicted by his administration under the Espionage Act.

As of now Snowden's next port of call is not clear. Speculation is rife that he will travel to Cuba or Ecuador or even the US. Cuba and Ecuador are top on the list because of their open disdain for 'Big Brother', and by nature a ready willingness to embrace anything anti-US. The bets are also on that the US will use its diplomatic muscle to get the whistleblower back home. So while William Hill, the British online gambling website, has opened betting on Snowden's location on New Year's Day 2014, a lingering question remains: Has the US grown so intolerant that it is no longer safe for whistleblowers who expose government irregularities? Going by recent examples, it would certainly seem so.