It seems that our American society is at a crossroads due to the schism between PRISM leaker Edward Snowden and the national-security establishment headed by the Obama administration and rest of the federal government. As both sides attempt to discredit the other, the American people have to deal with the question of who to trust more.
Young people seem to sway toward Snowden, according to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll that found an estimated 60% of the 18-to-29 demographic supporting Snowden’s leaks. In stark contrast, only 36% of those over 65 supported the leak.
This poll shouldn’t be too surprising considering the post 9/11 landscape that millennials have grown up in. This generation witnessed firsthand the spectacular intelligence failures that led to the Iraq War. The millennial generation then subsequently turned to Obama with hope that the worst was over.
Now the nation is faced with a series of recent disappointments out of the Obama administration. The collecting of Associated Press phone records, IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, and now the PRISM scandal have dampened the beginning of Obama’s second term. When it comes to finding a hero, or at least a well-intentioned crusader for civil liberties, Snowden has the best hand at the card table.
On the other hand, Snowden, a 29-year-old CIA contractor working with the defense company Booz Allen Hamilton, is one man against a larger system. While the existence of PRISM was unknown to the general public, there is still much debate on how PRISM can be and has been used.
Spearheaded by Obama himself in an exclusive interview with Charlie Rose, the Obama administration has insisted that the NSA program follows the full extent of the law, citing the need for warrants and additional oversight to protect civil liberties.
While Snowden insisted that he had the capabilities to wiretap pretty much anything, NSA director Michael Hayden stated, “Snowden’s wrong. He could not possibly have done the things he claimed to do in terms of tapping communications.” Who is to be trusted?
I don't believe that the burden follows on either side. Instead, this is part of a debate on the balance of civil liberties and national security that has gone on since the creation of the PATRIOT Act. Manuel Castells, a scholar of network theory, claimed in his writings that, “The way people think determines the fate of norms and values on which societies are constructed. “
The individuals that make society already have personal benchmarks for liberty and security. When we watch Snowden and the Obama administration, we’re not really deciding which one is the most trusted. Rather, we’re affirming which norms and values we uphold and to what degree. Both the feds and Snowden may be lying, or telling the truth. What really matters is the larger debate going on.