The center of the universe

I’ve mostly steered clear of the most recent NSA scandal, not because the issue is unimportant but because so much of the situation remains unclear. More information has started trickling out, however, namely in the form of a recent interview of the source of the leaked information, Edward Snowden, by The Guardian. Unfortunately, the whole of his answers taken together are a bit of puzzler about what his understanding of the situation itself is.

parody map of how the United States views the world with major areas of the world stereotyped to communists, terrorists, kangaroos or similar nonsense
(A pertinent joke about perceptions of the world by US citizens, from here.)

When asked about the important lessons to be learned from his leak, Snowden explained that US intelligence agencies “collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians”, implying that part of his moral dilemma with alleged actions by the US government rests with a violation of constitutional, not human rights. This taps into a long history of conservative arguments against the security policies of the Obama administration, which often amounts to not so much disliking their actions as much as worrying that they might be carried out against US citizens.

That said, in response to the question presented as immediately following that, Snowden made clear that his claims deflate the Obama administration’s self-presentation as a unique government that respects online privacy, when in fact “we are in almost every country in the world” electronically speaking, including those we are not at war with (and even sometimes politically allied with). The point he makes, however, seems less focused on our violation of other citizens rights, so much as how this reflects on Obama and his administration.

It’s interesting to see even some of the most dramatic allegations against the Obama-era security apparatus even when published in media based outside of the US, the most pressing concerns are centered around the rights and respected owed to US citizens. The outrage seems to be rooted in the surprise of finding US residents more vulnerable to surveillance that residents of some other countries (many are actually much more likely to have significant data collected on them, Snowden neglected to mention). Likewise, when the international implications are raised, it’s an outcry against the hypocrisy of the Obama administration, not the alleged violations against various people around the world with little or no legal recourse.

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