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Some call him a patriot. To others he’s a whistleblower, a dissident, a traitor.
While there is little consensus on what to call former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, one thing is clear — he is a controversial figure.
This coming Tuesday, Snowden will join the College of William and Mary via satellite to discuss global surveillance programs and the role of intelligence in national security. He will be joined by William and Mary Prof. Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“We think Snowden can speak well to students here because so many are debating these issues every day and will go on to jobs where they’ll be wrestling with these issues,” said event organizer and William and Mary student Tucker Higgins. “For those who support those disclosures — and especially for those who don’t — there will be a chance to ask him questions. It doesn’t matter if you support or don’t support Snowden. Citizenship means wrestling with these issues.”
Both Snowden and Wilkerson are recipients of the Sam Adams Award, an award given annually to an intelligence professional who has taken a stand for integrity and ethics.
“They are two excellent models for what citizenship looks like and they’ll be on stage together,” Higgins said. “Wilkerson has spoken out publicly about events he was apart of and took issue with. He’s courageous and has a lot of experience.”
In 2013, Snowden copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency while working as a contractor for the United States government. Snowden settled in Russia after initially traveling to Hong Kong following his disclosure of documents. The Russian government granted him asylum soon after.
He came to international attention after stories based on the leaked material appeared in The Guardian and The Washington Post. Since their publication, two movies — an Oscar-winning documentary and a feature film — have been released about Snowden and the leaks.
The leaks revealed multiple government-sponsored surveillance programs, many operating with cooperation from telecommunication companies, which tapped into nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs.
“What I find so interesting about Snowden is regardless of what you think about his actions — I know there’s a lot of opinions about its morality — the evidence he has brought to light has raised the national conversation about security and surveillance and what that means for our democracy,” said Scott Barton, Director of Communications for the Institute for Humane Studies. The institute is co-sponsoring the event.
Revelations from the leaks fueled international debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy.
“I hope that Snowden’s actions will open up the conversation on the proper role of government,” said Sean Denney, Faculty Partnerships Project Manager. “The way we process and consume information has changed so dramatically, it brings up the question: does this call for a reevaluation of what privacy means?”
If you want to go…
“Democracy Under Surveillance: A Conversation With Edward Snowden” on Tuesday, April 18, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Commonwealth Auditorium at William and Mary. Admission is free.
The event will also be streamed live here or on-air at WCWM 90.9 FM. Click here to learn more about the event.