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Guest Column: Edward Snowden: Internet folk hero

July 31, 2013

By Eric Howanietz

After 12 years of warnings, there it is before us: the NSA’s monitoring of internal American activities. Twelve years of the PATRIOT Act, 12 years of speculation and fear, all found to be completely valid.

But unlike Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam, this time the conspiracy has built into its framework a special defense against whistleblowers. Under the PATRIOT Act, Edward Snowden is considered a traitor for releasing information about a data collection program. The PATRIOT Act has made it illegal to show how the PATRIOT Act is illegal.

There is very little separating Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the NSA’s Prism Program from Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers in the 1960s. Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 truly validated the anti-war movement of the 1960’s generation. After the release of the Pentagon Papers, there wasn’t much doubt that Vietnam was a complete blunder. Now, we sit on a similar precipice. The whole notion of the “War on Terror” hangs in the balance now that we know the full extent to which our civil liberties have been eroded. But the same generation in the 1960s that embraced Daniel Ellsberg’s whistleblowing is now looking pretty wishy-washy about Edward Snowden.  The reality is this could really rock the boat, and I’m not sure the 1960s baby boomers are ready for that. I’m not sure they are ready to embrace the reality that their government has made the leap into George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not sure the media can handle the growing outcry that has united liberals and Libertarians beyond the normal partisan rhetoric. I’m not sure everyone can stop talking about Edward Snowden’s personal life and start discussing the information he has given the world.

But if the generation that made the 1960s doesn’t get on board with Edward Snowden, then all bets are off. Take your 30 silver, take your pension plan, take your underwater home, take your National Public Radio, take a rope and go find a tree.

The generation gap is very apparent on this tech-savvy issue. America is coming very close to launching a new war, “The War on the Internet.”  Just as the baby boomers were shamed by cannabis use and “The War on Drugs,” a new generation will feel fear for accessing pirated music, playing hacked games and using hidden message boards.  But if the 1960s generation can be open-minded enough to support this generation’s struggle for liberation, then we can count this as a revolution worth having.

Edward Snowden kept himself safe by creating a media firestorm and distributing information widely. Some call it fame-seeking, others call it good activism.  He handled things as well as one man could — and better than most. Any attempt to dive into the Sub-Net on this topic shows a world of support for Snowden. Even the surge of enthusiasm in mainstream social media is hard to ignore. Snowden will now join a growing list of “Internet Folk Heroes” that include Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, Julian Assange and Anonymous. These Internet Folk Heroes are a testament to the constitutional character of our democracy and individual liberty worth fighting for.

Eric Howanietz is a Rockford resident.

From the July 31-Aug. 6, 2013, issue


  1. Rick Goldsmith

    July 31, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Very good points, that the Snowden and Ellsberg whistleblowing were really very similar. What most critical-of-Snowden commentators overlook is that the NSA surveillance program is not only massive, and invasive, but (until the leak) secret. In the Vietnam era, that would be shocking and unacceptable to at least half the populace. Not so today. Much as I agree that the Boomers are weak in our outrage, that is not surprising. Historically it is always the young that raise hell, are quick to protest an assault on our freedoms, and drive the movements for social change. The “war on terror” is indeed a hoax, and an excuse to gut the freedoms so many fought for over many generations. Yes, we need push-back from older, established folk, but just as much, or more so, from the young.

  2. richard bittner

    August 1, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Having a felony resulting in resistance to the draft during the 1960s, I’d say the 1960s generation to a large degree morphed into the yuppies (not yippies) and with time passing few remain. Any question regarding the effectiveness of the domestic deployment of the dragnet PRISM spy has been rendered moot by it’s disclosure. Realistically, the only remaining effective target for PRISM is the Atmerican People. Godspeed to Edward Snowden..Let US act to create a government that will welcome him back to the country he loves.

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