Department of Justice, International Law

Where Can Edward Snowden Go To Stay Above the Law?

I don’t really feel the need to slap a “hero” or “villain” label onto Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who blew the lid off of the secret government email spying program now known as Prism. I mean, if I have to choose, I go “hero” because I basically don’t trust any program the government won’t even explain to its own people. And I certainly don’t trust anything that’s every come out of a FISA court, because how can I?

But I don’t know that this was the right or only way to bring this important information to light. I believe, I kind of need to believe, that the public’s ability to know and stop potentially massive government overreach rests on more than the good conscious of high school dropouts living in Hawaii. Perhaps so-called “small government” types will join together with progressives in saying that non-public courts issuing secret warrants is probably a bad thing.

With that in mind, I would love to see Snowden evade prosecution. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t able to forge alliance between Ron Paul supporters like himself and progressives who wish that politicians were as afraid of Fourth Amendment as the Second.

But how can he stay free? The Justice Department is loading up charges and Hong Kong just wants what’s good for business. Snowden is already on the move, where should he go? Come on people who went to law school for “international law” get your head out of complex cross border transactions and help this brother out…

For those who haven’t been following along, Snowden was holed up in a hotel room in Hong Kong. But the New York Time reports that the Department of Justice is preparing to file charges against Snowden, in part to smooth the extradition process from Hong Kong to the U.S. That meant Snowden had to move on:

Whether Mr. Snowden remained in Hong Kong or fled to another country — like Iceland, where he has said he may seek asylum — the charges would strengthen the Justice Department’s hand if it tries to extradite him to the United States. One government typically must charge a suspect before another government will turn him over.

If Snowden wants to simply hide, Hong Kong is a great launching pad for many remote corners in the far East. From USA Today:

Perhaps the easiest option for Snowden to lay low inexpensively would be the Philippines, with more than 25 flights a day to various airports and some of the least expensive travel costs around. Snowden would get a boost from a fall in the Philippine peso Tuesday to its lowest level against the dollar in a year, and he could choose to head to any of some 2,000 inhabited islands.

But really Snowden would be spoiled for choice, with Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mongolia and Burma among the options of places with nonstop flights from Hong Kong and many remote corners to get lost.

I’m sorry, but does this guy have any money? He downloaded some slides on government surveillance, he didn’t rob a bank or steal launch codes or download the plans for the antidote to male-pattern baldness. What yurt building skills has this guy acquired that make us think he can survive hiding out in Mongolia?

He can’t come home. He’s not a whistle-blower. The whistle-blower protection statutes exclude divulging state secrets (of course they do). While I’m sure there is an excellent law review paper to be written about whether the government’s justification for collecting, but allegedly not looking at, loads of data from American citizens falls within various national security exceptions to the protections we grant to whistle-blowers — that’s a law review paper or amicus brief that can be written easily enough while Snowden is in jail.

Snowden’s best bet is probably with Mother Russia. From Russian Today:

Russia is willing to consider granting political asylum for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who blew the lid on the US PRISM program, Russian media reported. Snowden dropped out of sight Monday after he was last seen checking out of a Hong Kong hotel.

“If we receive such a request, we will consider it,” Kommersant daily quoted President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying.

The enemy of my frenemy is my detainee?

There is absolutely no downside to Russia for granting this guy asylum. You pick him up invite him over, set him up with beautiful accommodations in St. Petersburg. If he knows more and talks about it, maybe he has a nice life. If he doesn’t know anything else or doesn’t want to be friendly to his new hosts, maybe he gets moved to Siberia? Either way, you’ve pissed off the U.S… who nonetheless isn’t going to do anything to you. And in the bargain you learn a little bit more on how the greatest democracy in the world spies on people.

Again, I don’t really think Snowden is a hero, in part because I don’t see a lot of great endings here for him, or whatever state-secrets he has that shouldn’t be public. But to me, the lesson here is that this is why you don’t ask citizens in a Democracy to spy on their neighbors based on secret program with non-public warrants without the light of due process.

David Brooks has a ridiculous piece out today about how Snowden is somehow endemic of our fragmented age. I think he’s just a reminder that Americans are indoctrinated to expect transparency as a hallmark of Democracy. If you don’t want people like Edward Snowden acting like he is above the law, then the government has to publicly show that it is limited by the law.

U.S. Preparing Charges Against Leaker of Data [New York Times]
Edward Snowden has many travel options [USA Today]
Russia ready to consider asylum for NSA whistleblower Snowden [Russia Today]

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