The Legacy of Edward Snowden

For Al Jazeera English, I wrote about Snowden and political paranoia:

On June 23, 2013, Edward Snowden left China, a repressive state with a vast surveillance system, to fly to Russia, a repressive state with an even vaster surveillance system, in order to escape America, where he had worked for a surveillance system so vast he claims it gave him “the power to change people’s fates”.

In proclaiming his ability to change the fates of others, Snowden lost control of his own. He was lambasted as the instigator of international conspiracies and praised as the source of their revelation. He was at once a hero and a traitor , a pawn and a king, a courageous whistle-blower with the means to bring down nations and a naive narcissist, little millennial lost . He inspired debate and inspired even more debate over whether to debate him.

What are people looking for when they look at Snowden? They are looking for answers about how much states and corporations know about their personal lives, but more than that, they are looking for a sense that answers are possible. They are looking for knowledge untainted by corruption, as Snowden continues his world tour of corrupt regimes. They are looking for state agendas explained by someone without an agenda of his or her own. They are looking, and they are not finding what they seek.

Satisfactory explanations require trust in the person explaining. In the long term, Snowden will be seen as a symptom of a breakdown in political trust, not a cause. His legacy is paranoia – the paranoia of the individual about the paranoia of the state that spurs the paranoia of the public. This is not to say that paranoia is always unjustified. But it has become a weltanschauunginstead of a reaction.

Read the full article, Snowden and the paranoid state, at Al Jazeera English.

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