My time with Edward Snowden’s Attorney, Ben Wizner

(Wizner, Randell Stroud (Founder of Nalini-Global)

It was October of 2015, I got the call from an old colleague  that Ben Wizner was in town  at the Nashville Public Library giving a lecture on cyber-security and how it relates to civil liberties concerns. Mr. Wizner boasts an impressive resume consisting of visits to Guantanamo Bay, handling a plethora of civil rights cases , and most recently the handling of Edward Snowden’s seditious charges of leaking classified information during his tenure working for the National Security Administration which showed that the government was monitoring its citizens’ cell phone conversations and internet usage among other things.  Snowden  currently resides in Russia under assylum status and is still wanted by the US government to stand trial for his actions.

Recent polls show that most Americans have mixed feelings towards him. Alongside his leak of  the NSA’s deemed “Spy Program”,  also known as “PRISM”, document leaks also showed a black budget of $52 million dollars and  revealed the United Kingdom’s similar spy program code-named “Tempora”. Information regarding covert operations  overseas were also revealed.

Because of this, some Americans argue that his actions endangered our nation from a foreign policy military perspective and could have negative blowback consequences towards our national security. On the other hand, civil rights leaders praise him for exposing what is seen as “overarching government intrusion”.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the facts gathered from the leak to pose many interesting questions.  Should Snowden have alerted his superiors and complained through a proper investigative agency? Is the government going too far? Should we have privacy concerns? How should we treat whistleblowers? Should we create more agencies to oversee these programs so that whistleblowers are not needed? What can we do to protect ourselves online from cyber-attacks? Should people really be put on watchlists for visiting a controversial website even by accident?

After the event was over, I pulled Ben aside and decided to pick his brain a bit and engage in a more in-depth conversation.  We both agreed that more oversight into cyber-intelligence gathering and the practice of placing people arbitrarily on “Government watchlists” needs definite reform. The most important take away from our conversation could be made in two points.

  1. How do we balance security and liberty? How can we protect our countrymen while still respecting our people’s right to privacy and their ability to speak freely without fear?
  2. If something appears unconstitutional or inhumane, we as a society need to gather and have discussions about it, especially on the local political levels.

Mr. Wizner believes that our leaders in Washington are making too many decisions on a “whim”, whereas more consideration, transparency, and a shift in our culture of detachment needs to change. My meeting with Mr. Wizner was very thought provoking and certainly does open Pandora’s box.

Is the NSA violating the 4th Amendment? Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, engaged in a nearly two day long filibuster to explain why he thinks they are, whereas others like Governor Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham, believe that the program is a necessity in the modern cyber age in order to keep us protected from terrorism.

Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars series once said, ” Everyone is right, from a certain point of view. ” Just as in foreign policy, those who participate in war never see themselves as the enemy, but always as the liberator, but perhaps both sides have some sins to share.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I think we can all agree that its time we come together as a nation for a “house meeting” at the roundtable, and start becoming more politically active and engaging in conversation.  Its a good start to an age old argument..

Is it possible to have security while respecting liberty? Does one weaken the other?

Let us know what you think!

Nalini-Global 

2017