Edward Snowden occupies a strange place, culturally, right now. At the same time that Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch and Salil Shetty of Amnesty International are calling for him to be pardoned in a New York Times op-ed where they call his actions a “public service,” a summary report from a two-year House intelligence committee investigation has dismissed the idea that he is a “whistleblower” and (perhaps unsurprisingly) painted him as a “disgruntled employee.” This all as a movie about his life has been made with Oliver Stone, an Oscar-winning director, at the wheel. The result of all of this is (and it’s fair to assume that the concerted campaign to get him a pardon and the release of the film are, at least, loosely connected) that, yet again, Edward Snowden’s name can’t help but find its way into the headlines.
Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia presently, is doubtlessly a symbol. His face turns up in street art and on items as diverse as pins, lego figures, statues, shirts, and prayer candles. If you want to apply a simple comparison, he’s the Che Guevara of the cyber set; a revolutionary that is, rightly or wrongly, idolized by a growing flock with over 2.35 million followers on Twitter. In the halls of power, there’s a little less love and affection, but his name can still be thrown about with pleasure or disgust when talking about national security. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump want to bring him to justice. Former candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, wants to find a way for Snowden to avoid a long prison sentence.
Is he a patriot or a traitor? That’s a question that a lot of people have an opinion about, and that’s before people flock to see the movie and become insta-experts. Patriot or traitor, the one undeniable fact is Edward Snowden has become the story, but what does that say about his actions and about us?