Though the White House wants to prosecute Snowden on criminal charges, his revelations have put Barack Obama’s administration on the defensive.
Obama said that “we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our Constitution require.”
One of the things Snowden exposed was a program called PRISM, which gave the NSA direct access to customer data from companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. The Guardian revealed the ways in which large companies worked closely with the NSA in return for payment of their compliance costs.
But now tech companies are responding to public pressure and consumer demands for more privacy and transparency. Many of them have change their policies to notify their users of government data seizures.
Another revelation explained the “three hops” rule, which refers to the degrees of separation between a target and his or her associates.
A Pew Research Center study found that the average adult has 338 Facebook friends. On the basis of three degrees of separation, one suspicious target could allow for the NSA to legally monitor nearly 39 million people associated with the first.
Much to the embarrassment of the White House, the data uncovered by Snowden’s leaks revealed that the U.S., along with the U.K., spied on its allies, including wiretaps on the personal communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
But some governments cooperated with Washington. In addition to Britain, Australia assisted in covert data collection, and Canada ran a two-month pilot program that tracked the Wi-Fi communications of travelers at its airports.
Earlier this month, former Vice President Al Gore praised Snowden’s efforts, saying the leaks “provided an important service.” He added that the violation of constitutional rights by the U.S. government were far more serious than Snowden’s actions.
Rowley agrees. “The Constitution does enshrine a right to privacy, a right to freedom of association, religion, speech,” she said. “What the U.S. was doing was completely illegal. They were violating the Fourth Amendment.”
Holloway concurred with both comments. “I will agree he has done arguably a service to the public because the modern day equivalent of our papers and our effects, of course, is our emails, our telephone calls, our text messages … that is protected by the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “But he went about it the wrong way. He can’t just go to China and Russia with national security materials and expect not to be charged with a crime.”
As to what’s next for Snowden, Rowley says that it’s likely he will be granted an extension because his life is in danger and nothing has really changed for him over the past year. Holloway said that if he is denied asylum, he will be expected to be returned to the United States and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.