Snowden in hiding, but Obama promised protection to whistleblowers

History will absolve Ed Snowden. It will not be so kind to an Obama administration that does not welcome him home.

The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden fled his Hawaii home to Hong Kong before going public with the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald last weekend as the whistleblower behind the leaked information showing the US government’s startling surveillance and information aggregation tactics used against its own people.

His decision to run from the United States and its intelligence aparatus should be telling on its face. We’ve seen how our government has treated whistleblowers in recent years. More often than we’d care to admit, these people end up rotting away in jail cells.

But in my opinion, there is no better time than now to break that cycle.

As Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers, wrote today, Snowden has done a service to the American people. Ever since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, the federal government has enjoyed carte blanche in its freedom to keep tabs of the American people. Opponents of the bill warned of the gross government overreach that would be suddenly deemed legal if the bill passed, but our post-9/11 fears got the better of us.

Today, 12 years since the Patriot Act’s passage, we’re seeing firsthand what it has done to us. The US government is collecting mountains of data on the American people, and it has the ability, through access (willfully granted or otherwise) to our phone companies, social networks and emails, to monitor our personal communications. All of this at their own behest. All of this with little to no transparency.

Now, a conspiracy theorist I am not. So it makes me very uncomfortable to write what I just did above. But the most jarring thing about that paragraph is that it’s all true.

It seems at this point as if the US government is trying to determine how much damage Snowden’s leak has done to national security. The White House has punted on this one, handing the case over to the Justice Department [full disclosure: I have a cousin in the DOJ], while some politicians–mostly republicans, but among them California’s very own Dianne Feinstein–are calling for Snowden’s extradition and prosecution.

I’m not sure how this is going to pan out, but I would like to note one thing on whistleblowers: the Obama administration once promised the following in its ethics agenda:

It seems to me that Mr. Snowden’s actions fall under the umbrella of exposing “abuse of authority in government.” President Obama might want to follow through on his word, here. History will remember this one.