The line between hero and traitor is a thin one indeed. Edward Snowden has been called both. But if there is any doubt about the value of his actions and the positive changes he has achieved, just read the news that US President Barack Obama has authorised the first public reform of surveillance programmes since the September 11 attacks.
At the press conference where Obama made the announcement, the president made a point of saying that Snowden was not "a patriot". At least he didn't call him a traitor. But seriously, if Snowden didn't leak to the world media details of several top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programmes targeting foreigners and their own citizens alike, would Obama have called for the reforms?
No one can doubt Obama's intelligence, but who was he trying to fool when he said the proposed reforms were being prepared before Snowden made his exposure? These were top secret programmes. Why would any US federal agency conduct a public review if no one knew about them?
So WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was spot on when he said Obama's announcement "validated Edward Snowden's role as a whistle-blower" and amounted to "a victory of sorts for Edward Snowden."
The president says he will work with the US Congress to reform the Patriot Act, under which the US surveillance is carried out. The National Security Agency, which conducted the programmes, will launch a transparency website to explain its policies and their rationale. However, Obama said the surveillance programmes would continue.
So maybe Assange spoke too soon. It actually may be worse. Now that everyone knows about the surveillance, the shock and moral outrage are gone. The review and reforms will add legitimacy to these clandestine programmes. But think about their evil intrusion: they are the electronic equivalent of opening everyone's mail at will.
Two US encrypted-e-mail- service companies - one used by Snowden - have voluntarily shut down rather than give the US government data about their clients. When Washington insists global surveillance is its God-given right, it's those who fight for privacy and civil liberty who have to defend their innocence.