Train station

A Nation of Compliance Officers

I have conflicting feelings about Edward Snowden, the shrinking-violet-of-a-spy who leaked the info on the PRISM program being run by the NSA.

– He violated every term of his employment contract and who knows how many oaths he took.

– He knew exactly what he was signing up for in working (even as a contractor) with the NSA.

– The programs involved all appear to have been lawful.

But even with all that, there’s the fact that Snowden’s act of civil disobedience also brought renewed focus to the runaway nature of our modern surveillance state. And that’s a necessary thing, even if Snowden’s methods and motives in getting us there are less-than-pure.

I’m reminded of this recent piece from on the failings of the “compliance mindset.” For too many, all questions are answered by just following the rules. But that doesn’t cut it. There are too many times when circumstance, opportunity or risk demand that the rules be broken.

Of course, inherent in civil disobedience – but not always well-understood – is that there are consequences for breaking the rules. Snowden may be naive, he may be narcissistic, he may be a coward. His running to the largest surveillance state in the world suggests some combination of all three.

But he WILL suffer the consequences for his choice. While I question his underlying motivation and methods, I don’t condemn him for breaking the rules. He’s provided the spark for a much-needed discussion, one that will hopefully yield better protections from intrusive government surveillance. And that’s not a discussion we get to have if we become, as Reason’s Ira Stoll put it, a “nation of compliance officers.”

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