H4cked Off: Snowden’s not the messiah, or even a particularly naughty boy. He’s just some guy.

By Peter Gothard
02 Jan 2014 View Comments
Edward Snowden NSA Prism whistleblower

Public clamour about US National Security Agency (NSA) whistle blower Edward Snowden ranged in 2013 from ‘string up this dread criminal' (US government, pretty much) to ‘He's better than the Pope' (certain readers of Time magazine).

Stories of Snowden's dashing escape across the world to Russia, the misdirection of media and paparazzo hunting apparent body doubles here and there at the wrong stations, to his forced exile in various secret Moscow locations, made Snowden a figure of glamorous heroism. 

Further reading

He was Alan Moore's mysterious Thatcher-era freedom fighter V - a mythical, masked figure who may or may not exist - made flesh for "Anonymous" fans everywhere. To a public raised on Hollywood, his symbolism became far more important than his reality.

Then Snowden's ‘Christmas message' appeared, launched in competition with our own national matriarch's yuletide catch-up. What was surprising to me was, even next to an old woman covering the decidedly everyday topics of her personal religious faith and a baby, the new scourge of the Lizard People still came across as a sadly disappointing figure. 

Looking like an awkward 15-year-old whose mum had just blowdried his hair for a school photo, all Snowden basically did was reiterate, in his one minute and 40 second speech (at least he kept it short), what we already knew: collecting data is bad and let's not get all Orwellian and stuff. We get it. We got it six months ago. 

But then I realised my instant antagonism towards the guy was a reaction not to anything he's ever said himself, but to how much he measured up against the hype. Not hype of his own generation, but that of a fevered media desperate to create a new Julian Assange. 

The difference is Assange founded WikiLeaks due to an intense, personal desire to leak the top-level secrets of nefarious governments and other organisations. Snowden was, comparatively, the equivalent of a normal office bloke who works late one night and spots his boss nicking biros from the stationery cupboard, and decides to tell HR. 

If his boss was the NSA, the biros were the digital and analogue records of an entire country, and HR was the moral funny bone of every citizen of the world. 

Don't get me wrong. Snowden's done a fantastic job, and is a true hero for putting his neck on the line and speaking out.

Indeed, I recently had a very interesting chat with a fellow technology journalist who made out they'd been "fully aware" of many of these NSA ‘secrets' for five years before Snowden said anything, but were too afraid to spill the beans.

True or not, if even those whose very job it is to reveal these sorts of shady goings-on haven't the guts, we're tremendously lucky that one man risked (and, arguably, lost) all to get them into the public consciousness. 

But now, let's stop playing into the very character piece that the NSA and certain elements of the paid-off press probably want. Edward Snowden is not an interesting man. He is not the oracle we must continually flock to for our weekly fill of ‘what's what in the world of dodgy government surveillance'. The ongoing war is not about his soundbites. 

What we need now, to return to the analogy I'm increasingly regretting inventing, is to have that Biro thief clear his desk and be thrown out of the building. 

If "Prism" and everything that Snowden has revealed is real, and if a crime has been committed, the focus of the media and the world at large needs to remain on those criminals.

Second by second, they may still be collecting that data - all our data - and nothing Edward Snowden says from now on can change a single thing in that regard.

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