Seven months ago, the world began to learn the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights. The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices…
…All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community…
When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.
New York Times Editorial. Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower.
FJP: First, good on The New York Times.
Second, as the Times points out, Snowden’s been charged with two violations of the Espionage Act “involving unauthorized communication of classified information, and a charge of theft of government property.”
While the editorial suggests Snowden should receive clemency or, at the very least, a reduced sentence compared to the decades he faces under the current charges, take a look at the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s analysis of what Snowden would be able to present in his defense should he wind up in court. Basically, nothing:
If Edward Snowden comes back to the US to face trial, he likely will not be able to tell a jury why he did what he did, and what happened because of his actions. Contrary to common sense, there is no public interest exception to the Espionage Act. Prosecutors in recent cases have convinced courts that the intent of the leaker, the value of leaks to the public, and the lack of harm caused by the leaks are irrelevant—and are therefore inadmissible in court…
…[I]n Snowden’s case, the administration will be able to exclude almost all knowledge beneficial to his case from a jury until he’s already been found guilty of felonies that will have him facing decades, if not life, in jail.
This would mean Snowden could not be able to tell the jury that his intent was to inform the American public about the government’s secret interpretations of laws used to justify spying on millions of citizens without their knowledge, as opposed to selling secrets to hostile countries for their advantage.
If the prosecution had their way, Snowden would also not be able to explain to a jury that his leaks sparked more than two dozen bills in Congress, and half a dozen lawsuits, all designed to rein in unconstitutional surveillance. He wouldn’t be allowed to explain how his leaks caught an official lying to Congress, that they’ve led to a White House review panel recommending forty-six reforms for US intelligence agencies, or that they’ve led to an unprecedented review of government secrecy.
Chilling, and worthwhile to keep in mind when people say he should return from Russia and make his case to court.
One of America’s biggest news and media companies, News Corporation, just announced it was buying the 5-year-old social newsroom Storyful. Storyful has been on the vanguard of combing through the social web - from YouTube to Instagram - to surface and verify critical first hand reports of news events around the globe. Newsrooms call this “User-Generated Content” and Storyfull has built a business helping journalists tell fact from fiction and put this new content to use.
The New York Times, CNN and others are heralding this news as sign of the increasingly important role of user-generated content in journalism today. I even suggested that the deal is a huge investment in the values and practices of verification, which I hope sends a strong message to the entire industry (Storyful will remain a separate company within News Corp and will continue to serve clients across the media landscape).
However, I think this deal symbolizes more than the growing prominence of user-generated content — it should also be a reminder of the critical role of the people who are on the ground creating those videos, photos, tweets and more.
The News Corps/Storyful deal raises important new questions about how we understand, support and protect the acts of journalism that are increasingly a critical part of reporting.
As C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky have argued well, we are in a post industrial age of journalism. Today the fourth estate is made up of a network of actors, institutions and platforms but creating strong networks and protecting them is very different than defending a monolithic institution or industry.
As such, we have to ask questions about how we verify user-generated content and get consent to use it. This is Storyful’s area of expertise, but we also have to ask other questions:
I tackle some of these questions in a report published earlier this year:
"In today’s climate, it makes no sense for press freedom protections to apply only to a narrow class of professionals. Everyday Americans are central to the future of journalism as news consumers, distributors and creators. We need to push for policies that protect these new participants.”
I hope News Corp and the rest of the industry can think, not just about how they can leverage user-generated content, but also about how we empower and support the new media makers who are on the front lines with mobile phones and digital cameras, capturing history and telling their stories.