How far will the US go to punish whistleblowers? It seems that people who expose the government’s wrongdoing are prime targets for a state that would rather the American people not know about its inner workings.
The US government found another way to target whistleblower Edward Snowden, a contractor who worked with the National Security Agency. He leaked documentation showing that the organization was spying on American citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment. While Snowden is safe from prosecution while living in Russia, it appears American authorities can still find ways to punish him.
The United States government filed a lawsuit against Snowden, alleging that the infamous whistleblower’s new book violates nondisclosure agreements that he signed with the NSA and CIA. The memoir, which is titled Permanent Record, was recently published.
The suit claims that Snowden violated the nondisclosure agreements by failing to send a draft for the agencies to review before publishing. The government also accuses the former contractor of violating the agreements during his public speeches on “intelligence-related matters.”
The government is not seeking to have the book removed from the shelves, but it will instead attempt to take Snowden’s earnings. “Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” said Zachary Terwilliger, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He then explained that the suit “will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”
Serving Snowden with the suit could pose a challenge for the government, as he is currently living under asylum in Russia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the US. Officials have indicated that they might attempt to serve him through his lawyer or his publisher.
US authorities have charged Snowden under the Espionage Act. If the former contractor were to return to the US of his own volition, he could be facing 30 years in prison. He told reporters that he would only return to the States if he could expect a fair trial. “I’m not asking for a parade,” he said. “I’m not asking for a pardon. What I’m asking for is a fair trial. And that is the bottom line that any American should require.”
What’s the Deal?
Snowden has been the subject of controversy ever since news of his deeds reached the American public. Some believe him to be a traitor willing to place the lives of Americans in danger. Others view him as a patriot who put his life on the line to expose the nefarious deeds of the federal government. To the former, the government’s action might seem justifiable. After all, if it can’t imprison Snowden, perhaps it can keep him from earning income. The other camp might just see this move as another way to defend the surveillance state.
Privacy has become more of a hot-button issue. While many Americans remain unaware of the true extent of the spying done by the government – and even private companies – others are frightened at the increasing ability of the state to violate their rights. As long as Snowden remains free, it is clear that the US will not cease its efforts to make life difficult for the whistleblower. Perhaps this is designed to send a message to others who might deign to reveal the state’s covert machinations: Expose us at your own peril.