The Snowden Documents Should Be Put in the Public Domain

Like tons of people around the world, I’ve been following the NSA whistle-blowing story.

I will put in the caveat that I think that the names and personal information of anybody who is not a public figure should be redacted. But I cannot think of anything else in the Snowden documents which needs to be kept hidden from the public. Oh, right, it might help terrorists. Well, if people are so darn concerned about terrorists, I suggest tightening safety standards all all nuclear power plants, which not only will remove the terrorists’ scariest targets, but will also protect us from Chernobyl/Fukushima-like disasters. That would do far more to protect the public than withholding documents. Some people say that if certain information in the documents were make public it would be ‘damaging’ to the United States. Well, I actually care more about the people of the United States than I do about the US government, and I do not understand how ignorance is a good thing for the people.

It’s been noted that Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are the only two individuals who are confirmed to have full access to all of the documents, and they have been oh so very carefully picking which documents to make public and write stories about (the Guardian and other journalistic ventures have also been making their ‘careful’ selections). I have encountered two theories about how they select which choice bits to make public:

Theory A) The Snowden documents are mostly boring and not newsworthy. Therefore, Greenwald, the Guardian et al. have to cherry-pick the documents in order to sensationalize them and make the NSA look scarier than it actually is. If the public had access to the full set of documents and got to see the released bits in their context, the public would realize that this is all a carefully staged stunt to promote journalistic careers and newspapers.

Theory B) The Snowden documents contain revelations so shocking that, if the full thing, or even 20%, were made public, it might very well spark a revolution and tear down governments. Therefore, by maintaining such tight control over the documents, Greenwald et al. are actually protecting repressive governments from angry citizens.

I have my own thoughts about whether Theory A or Theory B is closer to the truth … but since I do not have access to all of the documents these are just guesses. Without seeing what’s actually there, it’s not possible to know.

Okay, there is also Theory C) Greenwald et al. are publishing all of the parts which will actually help the public, and the 98% that is not being published would not be interesting to the public, yet they are not manipulating or distorting the story in any way. My reaction to that is: the public did not give Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, the Guardian etc. permission to make those judgement calls

Though I am highly skeptical of Theory C, I cannot disprove it because I don’t have access to the evidence (and the best way to convince me that Theory C is most accurate would be to put all of the documents in the public domain).

And I don’t think it matters which theory is correct when considering the question of whether or not these documents should be put in public domain. If these journalistic ventures are misleading the public by making a mountain out of a molehill, then I think the public should know. If these journalistic ventures are covering up government transgressions so severe that they could inspire the overthrow of governments then I think the public should know so we can get on with the business of overthrowing those awful governments.


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