As much as lawmakers want to portray Edward Snowden as a traitor, the American public isn’t buying it. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, about 55% of voters see him as a whistleblower, not a traitor. That holds across all lines of political party, gender, income, and education, with the only exception being African-Americans, who are evenly split on the issue.
The attitude about U.S. efforts on anti-terrorism are undergoing a seismic change. Now, 45% of voters think the government has infringed too far on civil liberties, whereas just three years ago, 63% thought it hadn’t gone far enough. Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute sums up the change:
The massive swing in public opinion about civil liberties and governmental anti- terrorism efforts, and the public view that Edward Snowden is more whistle-blower than traitor are the public reaction and apparent shock at the extent to which the government has gone in trying to prevent future terrorist incidents.
The fact that there is little difference now along party lines about the overall anti- terrorism effort and civil liberties and about Snowden is in itself unusual in a country sharply divided along political lines about almost everything. Moreover, the verdict that Snowden is not a traitor goes against almost the unified view of the nation’s political establishment.
Other voices are weighing in on the same side as American voters. Last Friday, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay released a statement specifically mentioning Snowden in calling on other countries to protect the rights of whistleblowers and respect their need for asylum. She said:
National legal systems must ensure that there are adequate avenues for individuals disclosing violations of human rights to express their concern without fear of reprisals. Snowden’s case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy.
While concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify the exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance programs, surveillance without adequate safeguards to protect the right to privacy actually risks impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Snowden had made an appeal on Friday for human rights advocates to speak out on his behalf. In? an interview at the Moscow airport where he is ensconced, Snowden asked international human rights organizations to petition the U.S. and the EU (European Union) to not interfere with his quest for asylum.? In addition, he said he would like temporary asylum in Russia (which he has since formally requested) until it is safe for him to travel to one of the Latin American countries that have offered him more permanent protection. As reported in the New York Times, observers felt that the Russian government orchestrated the interview and they speculated that the Russians are looking for a way out of the impasse.
In the meantime, the U.S. government is pressuring the Russian government not to provide asylum. In contrast to the statements directed at Latin America, saying that their relations with the U.S. would be damaged in perpetuity if they provided asylum, White House press secretary Jay Carney said:
We don’t believe this should, and we don’t want it do harm to our important relationship with Russia.
Based on the reactions of Latin America previously–especially Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua–it’s to be expected that their governments may not take kindly to the disparity in attitude. Russia certainly has been neither more of a friend to the U.S. nor more of a hotbed of human rights. At a minimum, the Snowden controversy is provoking–as he said he intended–an increasing amount of thought and discussion over civil liberties and human rights, not just in this country, but around the world.
Edited and published by WP.