• Snowden: Traitor or truth-teller in the public interest? (Photo: Abode of Chaos)

Opinion

Let's get Snowden to the EU parliament

06.12.13 @ 08:05

  1. By Werner Schulz

BRUSSELS - In the days of great-power confrontations, a person who switched sides was called a defector.

Today, we call someone who reveals wrongdoing within his own organisation a “whistleblower."

Traitor or truth-teller in the public interest?

Edward Snowden’s disclosures sparked a long-overdue debate: how far does the state’s protective function extend?

Under what circumstances and with what form of oversight is it entitled to intrude on the privacy of its citizens?

The secrecy of postal and telecommunication correspondence still stands.

But the digital world is eating away at it, with its craving for open communication and its cult-like hacker scene.

Those calling for unlimited transparency should take care not to confuse it with the one-way mirror of an interrogation room: Transparency goes both ways.

If you want a transparent state, don’t be surprised when that state attempts to figure out who in the glass house might be planning on throwing stones.

Quite a different matter is the extent to which the US is operating globally as a surveillance state, and by what right it does so.

Snowden gave large amounts of relevant data to journalists.

They are now doling them out, or their interpretation of them, one sensational slice at a time to an outraged public via competing news outlets.

EU countries should give Snowden safe passage so that he can come to the European Parliament in person to end this peepshow.

We might get the chance to put some questions by video-link from Russia.

The civil liberties committee is currently trying to set up the event for 16 December.

So: Is the NSA really the dreaded Stasi-style Big Brother?

But there are other questions as well.

Snowden delivered himself into the clutches of Russian leader and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin.

He made contact with the Russian consulate when he was still in Hong Kong and celebrated his 30th birthday there.

He remained at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow in the tender care of the affable gentlemen from the FSB, the successor to the KGB, the Russia's domestic intelligence service, and all the finesse of their craft, for weeks.

Of interest to them was not so much the information which had already been disclosed, but the surveillance and information filtering software itself.

Asylum was granted only once that issue had been resolved to their satisfaction.

Putin made an effort to downplay the harvest from this episode, comparing it to shearing a pig: “Lots of squealing and little fleece."

Perhaps enough fleece, though, to remedy certain Internet surveillance shortcomings. The intractable blogger scene and its sphere of influence, countering that of the Kremlin-controlled media, have long been a thorn in his side.

In compensation, Snowden - and this is the tsarist tiara on the whole affair - was offered a job at Russia’s version of Facebook, VKontakte.

One wonders what Russian blogger, Alexei Navalny, who knows all too well how the Russian political apparatus deals with those who expose corruption and wrongdoing thinks of the developments.

To say nothing of the jailed Greenpeace activists, released recently on bail.

At the moment, Snowden is being skilfully wielded to fan the flames of suspicion of the USA by his lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, a Putin confidant who sits on the FSB’s “public council."

Also revealing is the speed and helpfulness displayed by the FSB in connection with German MP Christian Strobele’s recent trip to meet Snowden.

No foreigners have been allowed to speak with Mkihail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch turned reformer, in the 10 years of his prison camp detention. I myself have been trying for months for permission to visit the imprisoned Pussy Riot members, without success.

Might it turn out that Snowden is not really or no longer the guardian angel of our civil liberties that we see him as?

His friend Jacob Appelbaum tells us we won’t know the truth until we grant him asylum.

We should, then, extract him post-haste from Putin’s grasp in order to ascertain what truly motivated him. Was he genuinely exposing an odious scandal. Did good intentions pave the way to where we now find ourselves now, or is he, quite simply, taking us for a ride?

Werner Schulz is a Green MEP from Germany and a civil rights activist in the former East Germany. He is also vice-chair of the parliamentary co-operation committee with Russia

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