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Is Edward Snowden a Hero or a Villain?

The life of Edward Snowden would make for a pretty good spy thriller. The former technical contractor for the National Security Agency has thrilled and chilled the world with disclosures of sensitive documents, unveiling a vast system of government monitoring across phone lines and online services. Brad Thor and Tom Clancy are probably getting their first drafts ready as we speak.

But would Snowden be the hero or the international supervillain in these books?

You'll find lots of people arguing for each of the opposing views. Here's how the core arguments break down:



When Snowden stole and distributed these documents, he broke the law and became a traitor to America herself. He needs to be punished, and harshly.

Snowden uncovered some deeply uncomfortable truths and should be protected the same way a corporate whistleblower would.

Snowden is no better than the Anonymous hacker group, or Wikileaks, or your average KGB agent.

He took a big personal risk on behalf of ordinary Americans, and should be rewarded like a hero.

Top-secret documents are secret for a reason, after all.

These files weren't secret because the life of American operatives depend on them -- they're just too embarrassing for everyone involved.

Snowden is making it harder to catch terrorists and other threats to national security.

Snowden is making it harder for the American government to spy on American citizens.

Love it or hate it
There's hardly any middle ground here. Either you hate Snowden and his actions, or you simply love what he did. You probably feel strongly about this yourself, dear reader -- but I can't predict which way you're leaning. Some opinion polls tilt in Snowden's favor and others lean the other way -- always by slim margins. Feel free to join the debate in the comments box below.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) responded to Snowden's leaks by pushing back against the government procedures he described. Big G CEO Larry Page took exception to some of the leaked claims in a blog post titled, "What the ...?" Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn't go for Google's titular theatrics but said that the press reports are "outrageous" and wrong in many respects.

Both companies explained that they don't provide blanket access to their data for the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, or anyone else. Instead, they review each information request by hand and comply only if required by law. And then there are laws restricting them from telling us about it. A week after the data surveillance leak, both Facebook and Google had petitioned Congress to lift those restrictions. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) joined the request as well.

Why these three musketeers?
Now, Facebook absolutely depends on the trust of its users. The core service is a collection of private information, after all. Sure, many Facebook posts are meant to be seen and shared, but far from all of it. There are private chat sessions, contact data, and posts aimed at particular audiences via Facebook's privacy attributes. The company has access to treasure troves of highly private information that nobody wants to share with the press, with Uncle Sam, or with anyone else.

Google also has plenty of incentive to keep this debate in the open but user information close to the vest. Some people already avoid Google because they don't like how tightly its search services tie into advertising efforts. If you think Google would unscrupulously hand over sensitive user information or personal search patterns to the first goon that comes a-knocking, alternative search engines are only a click away.

Microsoft is a less clear-cut case of self-serving interest. Yes, its Bing catalog of search tools and other online services does fall under the same trust-based umbrella as Facebook and Google. But it's a very small part of Microsoft's huge software-centric business model. I'm a little bit surprised to see Redmond take a stand for privacy and transparency when it's not crucial to the business.

Personally, I fall on the side that says Snowden is a heroic whistleblower. Here's why.

Rumors of massive surveillance systems have always floated around. Now the idea has leaped from tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories to the realm of public discourse. Government agencies and members of Congress openly discuss these data collection efforts now, albeit in the most guarded ways possible. I think it's healthy to shine a light on the inner workings of our intelligence efforts.

Snowden's leaks didn't stop the data collection. They also didn't stop the NSA's targets from talking on American phones or data networks. You might say that the whole saga just pushed the suspected terrorists further underground, using new communications methods that are impossible to track with current methods. They know we're listening, so it's time to get new tools.

OK. That's one more step in the eternal dance between good guys and bad guys. We make it harder to talk; they dive deeper. At least the moves were made in public this time and might leave a lasting legacy of better privacy policies. Not just for Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, but for American citizens in general.

That would be something worth fighting for.

The endgame
At this point, Edward Snowden's work is pretty much done. Unless he left the juiciest disclosures for last, he's opened the door to a semi-informed discussion about American surveillance efforts that may or may not change the world. The final chapters of his spy thriller come down to seeking asylum somewhere in Latin America, with the very agencies he talked about chasing him every step of the way. Like I said, call Tom Clancy.

For the rest of us, I hope to see more transparency around data collection efforts. I don't mean sending me an email every time the FBI goes looking for my search history, but I do want more information about the number and scope of national security requests -- which is exactly what the companies I've mentioned are lobbying for.

The Washington efforts might not change the world. If Congress doesn't take action on these petitions, the public will have forgotten all about Snowden by the time it's all said and done. But the fact that Google and Facebook are asking for permission to share more metadata about the process (oh, sweet irony!) makes me more comfortable already.

And that's a start.

The government has other things to worry about, too. Obamacare will undoubtedly have far-reaching effects. The Motley Fool's new free report "Everything You Need to Know About Obamacare" lets you know how your health insurance, your taxes, and your portfolio could be affected. Click here to read more. 

Read/Post Comments (34) | Recommend This Article (7)

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  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 11:37 AM, prginww wrote:

    This is getting stupid. Who the hell would want to support Snowden if there is a possibility of being on some secret govt hit list? Let Edward sort it out himself, who givesa crap anymore.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 11:55 AM, prginww wrote:

    If you really don't like what our government has done, hold your elected representative accountable. If they won't revoke the Patriot Act and the secret FISA court authorizations, replace them with someone who will. The government we have is not the way it has to be. And above all - don't go by the label "Republican" or "Democrat" - they are in this together, and it is not on our side.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:00 PM, prginww wrote:

    i guess it depends if you like your government spying on you or not.

    i don't think it is the government's job to keep track of me or you but to see to it the country functions as the constitution and amendments say it should be run.

    of course if you like the fact the government knows everytime you blow your nose then i guess you think snowden is a traitor.

    i don't happen to think he is.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:03 PM, prginww wrote:

    To some, YES and to others, NO. The truth is he did not disclose anything that every secret service already knew before him disclosing the INS listening practice. He on the other hand officially confirmed it to the world and embarrassed all sides, the listeners and the listened too. The real secrets that would truly heart the US are still with him and his computers, unless he had to turn them over to China and than Russia. The big Question is, did he?

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:05 PM, prginww wrote:

    He expected to be a real hero and finally found that he is completely alone because the world is not divided by two: goods and bads. There is just one world named "politics"

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:28 PM, prginww wrote:

    Mr. Snowden is a villian period, he did a snow job on the U. S. he has done treason and he should have to face the noose, traitors an villians no matter what they think of the government or the country they are not allowed to put the rest of the population in dire straits, there are many people andgovernments that would do this country and the American People harm and you know exactly whom they are!!!! This guy needs to pay for his crime!!!!

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:31 PM, prginww wrote:

    brad1: I say if you have nothing to hide then don't sweat the government Inwant them to know every criminal in this country and overseas and to deal with them harshley period!!!!

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:33 PM, prginww wrote:

    Forget the info he's leaked so far and take a look at what he did. He signed an agreement to keep info private....he broke the agreement. He stole government information....treason. He was dealing with China, Russia and then trying to deal with Cuba.....none friends or close friends of the USA. Russia was willing to give him asylum if he agreed not to do anything "to hurt the USA'. Snowden took back his request for asylum. The info he leaked we were told about back when the Patriot Acts were revamped. At that time most Americans supported the government going into our email, monitoring out phone calls etc because "it would help keep us safe". America has a short memory. Snowden leaks this not so secret info and the same Americans who support what the government was doing 12 years ago are now upset the government is doing it. Making a hero out of anyone who steals government secrets, breaks promises, befriends foreign govs (or tries to) that want to hurt USA is not a hero, that person is a traitor.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:34 PM, prginww wrote:

    brad1: Snowden is a traitor sir no question about it putting the rest of us in harms way and you can be sure he has given secrets to China and Russia don't br so neive sir these governments are getting all they want from him a very foolish young man his parents must be very proud of him to raise a turncoat like him!!!! A villian he is!!!!

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:36 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden did a snow job on the United States of America and he should have to pay for it he is a villian period!!!!

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:44 PM, prginww wrote:

    Super hero.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:45 PM, prginww wrote:


  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:53 PM, prginww wrote:

    It's thinking in black and white terms like "hero" and "villain" that make us more brainwash-able, easier to control. Maybe it's better to see Snowden in shades of grey.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 12:59 PM, prginww wrote:

    instead of condeming snowden,,, why not tell the world what he was talking about ...the media needs to investigate the message not the messenger,,, the media is so afraid of oblamo they dont want to upset him ,, so they dont go after the real story.. only appease the public,,, the media has become the poster child of oblamo...

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 1:03 PM, prginww wrote:

    any one who can stand to this government to protect our freedom is a Hero. so Snowden i want to thank you for doing something that i would do my self if i knew too because if this so call government created this program and care for his people they should had let us know so that we know that the only purpose they did it was to spy on terrorist. but i think they are the terrorist and those that don't see it are either entertain with their new toys or they have scape into technology world wake up and look at what the government is doing. don't let them educate you, educate your self.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 1:20 PM, prginww wrote:

    Finally a living (for now) American that I can be proud of. Mr Snowden you have made every filthy, thieving politician in Washington poo their britches. I salute you sir. God speed.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 1:33 PM, prginww wrote:

    Last night I was going through some of my old papers and discovered my documents related to CDRR (call detail recording) from American Bell AIS and NT) written in the early 80's.

    Makes me wonder what the big deal is with Snowden, outside of him being a child that needs to be spanked.

    What is the big deal 30 some years later? Why is Snowden even a news story? Let him go to some other place and drop the dummy from the news. Maybe Chile would be a good residence for Snowden - the idiot.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 1:43 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden is a self-proclaimed scofflaw. Some folks agree with what he did and call him a whistleblower instead. However, the U.S. is a nation of laws; do we (U.S. citizens) really want to live in a country where each individual gets to pick and choose which laws they agree with and will follow, and which they disagree with and are therefore okay to violate? The laws are enacted by the people we elected. As Churchill said: "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

    Right to Privacy was violated?

    You mean the right to privately make bombs and chemical weapons in my basement? No, it doesn't bother me that the government has violated that right to privacy.

    The government violated the constitution?

    We have a system of checks and balances. The judicial system was involved. There were judges in the process that served as an independent reviewers on the surveillance cases. In our system we have designated judges to be independent arbiters of the law. Again, this is the system we have chosen.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 2:12 PM, prginww wrote:

    Obama picks and choses what laws he wants obey or break , what's good for the goose is good for the gander. America's govt is extremely corrupt with the Chicago thug community organizer Obummer the leader of America's corruption. Snowden is a HERO. Mc Cain, Grapham, Schummer, Pelosi, Blabbermouth Schultz, Biden, Boehner, and a laundry list of these P.O.S. politicians are what's totally wrong with America, these self serving P.O.S. politicians need to be brought up on charges if their own for how they have bankrupt America. But boy do they get to fly around the world on tax payers expense, exempt from Obummercare,etc... IT is so sickning!!!

    America's economy is a house of cards thanks to Obummer and his massive spending, Federal Reserve printing trillions. Won't be long until a breeze blows in and collaspes this house of cards.

    All you takers from the makers will suffer the most when this shell game explodes...

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 2:36 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snoden is a national hero.

    He gave us a small bit of the transparency

    that president Obama promised when he ran for office.

    The proliferation of unaccountable security agencies with unlimited budgets, like the war on drugs, is more costly and damaging than the benefits.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 3:04 PM, prginww wrote:

    Ok people, WAKE UP!!!! You re calling this man a hero? Think about it. The 19 firefighters who went into the Arizona fires to save were heroes, Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela, John Glenn , well darn Oprah Winfrey is more of a hero than this little peon. He's a young idiot that got greedy, he's not trying to save us , WAKE UP!!!!, he's grabbing the money, and no one has said anything about his foreign bank accounts have you all? Well I know our country isn't perfect but we all live in a country will laws and if we don't like whats going on we have to change it, and if we don't we re just as much to fault as the next guy. But this guy broke one of our laws and is getting money for it and running away. If he was trying to help us the American people why not just tell us, why give it to China for money... And of course these other non friendly countries are going to offer him asylum, they want to see what else he has. WAKE UP !!!! He's a traitor

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 3:28 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden is an egotist of the first order. He "discovered" that the NSA spies on people? What next that US in the midst of a war with Islamist who want to murder Americans? If he felt that the NSA was outside the law, then he could have contacted someone in Congress and let Congress do its oversight job. His actions will unfortunately lead to some Americans being murdered by terrorists. If the US government ever gets him, they should give a swift, fair trial and execute him for his treachery. Maybe he can find sanctuary in North Korea, Iran or some other hell hole for the rest of his life.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 3:30 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden is a hero and a patriot in my book. We live in an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We’ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we’re waging war against ourselves at

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 3:51 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden is a hero and true patriot!!!!!

    our liberty is more important than any lives that might be lost due to a terrorist attack... why? you might ask. #1 more american lives have been lost gaining and protecting those freedoms and liberties than any terrorist organization could kill.

    #2 even when our government has the correct intell, they often ignore it and/or are completely incompetent, so they drop the ball. just like in 911, or the Tsarnaev brothers in the boston bombings......

    #3 we now have a government that backs our real enemies (al qaeda) in syria over other governments that are much less dangerous to our people and nation as a whole.

    #4 our government (particularly the executive branch) has been caught lying to congress and media so many times that they have lost all credibility with the people of this nation. with this in mind, do you really like the idea some lower level private government contractor having access to all your personal, financial, and medical information????? if you do, then you are more than just a fool. you are a coward and traitor to the constitution.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 3:57 PM, prginww wrote:

    He's as big a hypocrite as our government. He talks big about rights being violated, but then what does he go and do? He goes to some of the biggest press and human rights violators out there (China, Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela). There is no hero or villain in Snowden, just a hypocritical tool.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 4:35 PM, prginww wrote:

    He's a whistleblower and due to the risks involved, he's a hero. Those who don't like Snowden don't seem to get that this information gathering hub is ripe for abuse far beyond its initial goal of looking for terrorists. Because of Snowden, we have a chance to stop this government program before it grows into something awful. Because that is what government programs do, they grow and get abused by powers that be (the people who 'play the game' with the rule 'get away with whatever you can'). I can think of many ways to infiltrate the NSA analysts with plants and then milk that database for the information (hell, Snowden with no degree did it with ease). I am certain China and Russia already have plants and the politcians and the wealthy are next. The politcial stuff you could do with some insiders would make Watergate into a joke.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 5:19 PM, prginww wrote:

    I do not know if Mr. Snowden is a hero or villain (maybe he's just a human somewhere in between?) But I do like transparency in government and I don't like privacy rights being violated.

    I do not know enough about Mr. Snowden's motivations--or the wisdom of the NSA program for that matter--to make any definitive judgments. But the whole affair gives me some hope for humanity in that it is clear nothing a large organization (government, public, or private) does can be kept secret forever--someone will always leak.

    I think transparency is not to be underrated. Every leader needs to be kept in check (even when it's someone I voted for twice).

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 6:26 PM, prginww wrote:

    778. Edward Snowden is a false flag (7/5/2013)

    My conclusion based on the following facts.

    1. Time line. It’s the development of the recent events, all related to the core plot- elimination of Kat Sung.

    (1) The final stage of Boston bombing. It is marked by the killing of Toadshev in late May and the retirement announcement of the Boston FBI Chief in early June.

    (2) On 6/7, an unusual private meeting between Obama and Xi (Chinese President) was arranged suddenly in California. Payment of the secret deal apparantly was an issue.

    (3) On 6/14, “Former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed to Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, on Wednesday that Washington has hacked into hundreds of civilian targets in Hong Kong and mainland China.”

    2. Obviously, Snowden’s revelation is the result of that private summit. It is part of payment of a secret deal between the secret police of US and China.

    US recently “has repeatedly accused Beijing of perpetrating cyber-warfare, while China has continuously denied the accusations.

    The latest round in this blame game saw the US Defense Science Board publish a report saying that nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs and almost 30 other defense technologies were compromised by Chinese hackers, some allegedly tied to the military or government. (

    It’s not a coincidence that Snowden chose Hong Kong as the place for his revelation. That’s a payment to China. His revelation largely releases the pressure on China.

    3. It is a payment to Chinese secret police for their collaboration in Boston bombing. In which they confirmed one of the death was a Chinese student. They also joined a carjacking set up to trap Tsarnaev brothers. (mysterious Danny). Also for a big operation to create a bird flu which estimated 6.5 billion in cost. (see “774. China and bird flu (6/5/2013)”)

    4. No information important has Snowden leaked to public because his job is just to release the “cyber spying” pressure from China. What he said is to prove US does same thing that China does. Government spying on people and foreign countries. That’s common sense. Americans know echelon, Patriot Act since 911. Civil rights has been damaged already. So what for Prism.

    5. News said Snowden is helped by Wikeleaks in his travel plan and finance. It proves true what I alleged two years ago that Assange was a false flag. The master played behind them is the same organization. (see “655. Bin Laden and Julian Assange, False flag and living plant (12/7/2010)”)

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 7:39 PM, prginww wrote:

    I know this may seem shocking, but I am a liberal and I think he is a traitor to his country and he should be punished. Don't do the crime if you're not willing to do the time.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 7:44 PM, prginww wrote:

    Bush started it not Obama, for one. And as far as our privacy, that ended when the internet came along. There is no such thing as privacy anymore. Deal with it. But to think this man is heroic is so stupid! Heroes stand up. They do not run to Russia and hide. PERIOD!

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2013, at 10:52 PM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden is a "TRAITOR" there is no other way to describe it. He broke an oath, the law, and a legal binding agreement. THEN out of all the places he could have turned e.g. good lawyers to mount a legal defense he instead chose to run straight to those whom would like to destroy us and seek their aid. Does that sound like someone doing the country a favor? In all honesty, I am sick of hearing about him. For those of you that claim he is a hero because he exposed something or opened your eyes to certain situations then you need to get out of the cave you are living in more often. Maybe some were too young, experiencing memory loss, or living under a rock when that thing called the "Patriot Act" was passed over a decade ago. Oh and that thing called the "Internet" changed the definition of "privacy" forever. I would also respectfully recommend that you not get hung up with Democrat or Republican since they are both different sides of the same coin. Whatever Snowden did wasn't on our behalf or for our benefit. The real question is who is the beneficiary of the information that he is carrying?

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2013, at 2:41 AM, prginww wrote:

    We may never know the truth. All the facts aren't in yet and it may be years before we know if he gave away any classified or secret info to China or Russia. Seems strange to me that China let him loose so quickly. If he had something of real value, they would still be holding him and trying to get all the inside info they could.

    He's no hero. He did what he did to embarrass the nation in a foreign country. He also broke the law as he signed papers swearing he would not divulge classified info. He could have kept his name out of it, but was quick to publicly claim what he did and wanted the limelight. Well, he got it now. He got it in spades.

    There is some good that has come from this though. The federal govt. in trying to catch terrorists to protect us, has gone too far into our privacy with the methods it is using. Mining and keeping all that info, instead of destroying it if it turns up empty is bad news and should be stopped. Considering what the IRS has done with conservative and certain religious groups regarding applications for exemptions, I wouldn't put it past any administration, particularly this one, to use some of that mined info from phone calls and the internet to damage a political opponent.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2013, at 7:53 AM, prginww wrote:

    Why is "villian" even an option? No one should consider him anything but a courageous , principled hero.

  • Report this Comment On July 19, 2013, at 2:32 AM, prginww wrote:

    Snowden has done a very good job he alone has accepted the challenge which is given by America so called a powerful county which puts a mask on world snowden is revolutionist so all we have to support him for his courage wish u good luck for his future, he will get peace of mind.

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