The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

January 6, 2014

Cut a Snowden deal? It could happen

(Continued)

Obama’s own review panel and U.S. District Judge Richard Leon have found Snowden’s revelations raise serious issues of public importance that were previously hidden and, at worst, illegally concealed.

Judge Leon declared in December that the NSA’s sweeping collection of telephone and email metadata is an “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary invasion” that is “almost Orwellian” and almost certainly unconstitutional.

Yet, U.S. District Judge William Pauley in New York later found the phone call dragnet to be legal, since metadata collects information about phone call conversations but not their content.

Even so, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have argued that advancing technology makes the data collection so sweeping as to be almost the same as eavesdropping without a warrant.

The Snowden case and the issues it has raised may well have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. If the NSA’s phone metadata collection is found to be unconstitutional, Snowden’s chances to return to the U.S. with little further punishment, if any, rise. If not, he still might be able to leverage a plea deal for a lighter sentence in exchange for his information and stolen data.

Of course, many argue, letting Snowden off easy sets a bad precedent for others who might want to commit the same sort of grandiose stunt. To that I would argue that the NSA and its congressional oversight appear to have set bad precedents, too.

Now President Obama has the awkward duty of explaining our practices to some of the 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose phones were monitored. More disturbing than the monitoring, in my view, is how the president says he was unaware of that operation until it was uncovered during an internal review that he ordered after Snowden’s disclosures.

If eavesdropping on dozens of world leaders - which apparently began in the George W. Bush years - is not a big enough deal to bring to the president, one wonders how much else is being hidden from our elected officials.

It’s easy to demonize Snowden. It’s harder to dismiss the questions that his revelations have raised.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@tribune.com.

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