PARIS — During the Cold War, Western democracies rightly denounced the mass surveillance put in place by Eastern totalitarian regimes, offering refuge to dissidents who protested against such violations of basic freedom.
A few decades later, the Orwellian dystopia of disappearing privacy is becoming more and more concrete around the world, thanks to state intelligence agencies and the complicity of the giant internet companies. The revelation that civil liberties were being nibbled away at came to light thanks, in great part, to Edward Snowden: the talented techie turned enemy of the state in his native country, the United States.
In 2013, the secret documents he leaked to the press revealed large-scale surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, his employer. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, taking advantage of the widespread use of the internet and exponential storage capacities, intelligence services began secretly and systematically capturing citizen communications — without any democratic oversight whatsoever.
Snowden's revelations triggered a greater awareness of the standing of civil liberties, not just with political powers — who themselves were sometimes spied on by the intelligence agencies of allied countries — but also with the public. It shone a light on the ambiguous role of the top American tech firms and cleared the way for the burgeoning counter-attack by government authorities, whose rights were being eroded by the ambitions of the likes of Google and Facebook.
That Edward Snowden, flying towards a South-American exile around this time six years ago, ended up finding refuge in Moscow, where his passport was confiscated by the U.S. during a layover, doesn't change anything: he remains the world's most famous whistleblower, a powerful force in spurring a global mobilization to preserve civil liberties.
Earlier this week, Snowden spoke by teleconference on French radio station France Inter to speak about his new book. Recalling that he had applied, in vain, for asylum in France during the presidency of François Hollande, Snowden said he hoped current President Emmanuel Macron would reconsider letting him enter. If that happened, France would be doing itself an honor to welcome and protect him.
The West shouldn't allow Putin to stake a claim as protector of this freedom fighter.
The former French president rejected his application in 2013 because Snowden was not physically on French soil, which is a condition for asylum in the Geneva Convention. But since 1946, France has had the right to extend beyond French borders a special protection procedure that extends to anyone persecuted for their efforts to uphold liberty. French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet has stated that she's in favor of this ruling, as is a top ally of Marcon, European Parliament member Nathalie Loiseau, who believes Snowden "has done humanity a service."
There's no denying the shock that welcoming Snowden to France would create, nor the potential consequences of such an important decision in terms of intelligence cooperation.
The whistleblower's current situation shouldn't let us forget that authoritarian countries like Russia and China are the first to use the internet to repress their citizens. It is for this exact reason that Western democracies shouldn't allow Vladimir Putin to stake a claim as protector of the freedom fighter that is Edward Snowden. Granting him asylum would be a good way for Macron to put into practice what he preaches about human rights being "the common good of all Europe," and about France's particular singularity in this world on this regard.
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