Edward Snowden is the man who has been "spilling America's political secrets." Or at least, that is how I just heard him described on a cable news program.
Since the former NSA contractor outed himself, I've heard him called many names by people from both official and "unofficial" spokespeople of Washington - the pundits, paid thinkers and writers who are part of that well-groomed group.
For those unlucky people who can't experience the joy of watching domestic television, allow me share a few of the descriptions I've heard and read.
Snowden has been called "a traitor, high school dropout, loser, slacker, and a man with messianic aspirations."
So to sum it up, most of the people who have access to professional microphones are targeting him with labels that would make any human being feel like a skinny, acne covered High School freshman with lice.
This has an impact beyond Snowden’s self-esteem. It sets the tone for the conversation, it casts a light on the discussion, and it has the potential to impact how Americans feel about this story and about the surveillance the US government is conducting.
I can't tell you how Americans really feel about NSA surveillance. There have been polls, but I don't think there has been enough public discussion to say with any degree of confidence that Americans really understand the depth of what Snowden is telling the world.
They do know all about the hotels and bars in the Moscow airport, the potential countries he may end up in, and who he has dated.
Americans know far less about what Snowden says the US government is doing.
So as to not fall into that trap and since it is Independence Day (yes, I am sadly working), let's detail what we now know the US government does because of Snowden and others:
- Keeps a record of every cell phone call made.
- Keeps a record of all emails sent.
- Takes pictures of all the letters mailed in the US.
- Uses drones for domestic surveillance.
- Reserves the right to detain people (including Americans) indefinitely without trial.
- Can search homes without telling people they were there.
- Can still carry out renditions.
- Can get copies of all of your records (from the library, bank or credit card company) without a warrant.
So to sum things up, if you become a person of interest, the government can quickly find out everyone you have ever talked to and written to everything you have ever read and bought and everywhere you have ever been.
If you are overseas, they reserve the right to bring you back against your will and possibly hold you forever without trial.
President Barack Obama says he wants to have a serious discussion about these programs - which he says are necessary.
But that serious, national discussion about the scope of US surveillance and the definition of privacy will have to wait, because the media is distracted and busy painting their own narrative.
It might not be the most common phrase, but when I want to describe how to easily distract someone, I say: "Look! Something shiny!"
If you don't believe me, hold up a spinning disco ball to a small child mid-tantrum – it works every time.
Edward Snowden has turned into something shiny.
It seems an appropriate analogy today on the Fourth of July, when Americans celebrate our independence with fireworks.
After all, those are shiny too.