Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to announce that the 2015 Students For Liberty Alumnus of the Year Award will go to Edward Snowden for initiating a global conversation on the balance of power between governments and peoples that has led to and continues to bring about meaningful reforms to intrusive, abusive, and unjust government surveillance programs.
Like SFL’s previous Alumnus of the Year recipients, Mr. Snowden is not, in fact, an alumnus of Students For Liberty. Mr. Snowden finished his formal schooling before SFL’s founding in 2008. We are presenting this award to recognize and honor Mr. Snowden as someone who is no longer a student, but whose commitment to liberty has had a resounding impact upon the world and can serve as an inspiration for others.
Mr. Snowden, a former employee of the CIA and contractor for the NSA, blew the whistle on numerous surveillance programs and activities by the United States and United Kingdom that have been described by one U.S. District Judge as “almost Orwellian” in nature and contain features that are likely to be found unconstitutional. There have been countless articles published on the revelations Snowden brought to light, governmental inquiries into the legality of the disclosed programs, and public debates regarding the legitimacy of such state conduct. Such widespread discussion and scrutiny of the state would not have occurred if Mr. Snowden had not chosen to give up the comforts of his established life to call attention to the daily and massive violations of civil liberties taking place, giving the American public (indeed, the entire world) the opportunity to critique and reform them.
The high price that Mr. Snowden has paid for his actions is important to note, as well. Caring more for the principles of freedom and a public check on the activities of their government, Mr. Snowden now lives in exile, in a country that was not his chosen destination, but one forced upon him by authorities. Before disclosing the information available to him, Mr. Snowden knew that he would be forced to give up the comforts of his regular life, and in the future live as a de facto, if not actual captive, either at home or abroad. Describing this balance, Mr. Snowden has said:
“I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can’t allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I’m not going to be part of that.”
It is to be expected that some people will disagree with this decision, as Mr. Snowden is a controversial individual. Critics will likely endorse one of two lines of thought.
The first line of criticism will be for recognizing an individual who broke the law. However, civil disobedience is not merely something that we ought to accept as a necessary check on the abuses of government, it is one that ought to be revered and admired when used to hold one’s government accountable for its unjust and even illegal activities.
The second line of criticism will be for the potentially damaging consequences to the safety, security, and basic liberties of Americans suffered as a result of Snowden’s actions. And yet, a year and a half has gone by since the first documents were revealed to the public. It seems evident that no legitimately sensitive national security information was released to any 3rd parties, nor have there have been any consequential failures in the protection of the United States due to Mr. Snowden’s whistleblowing. There most certainly are times when national security may legitimately interfere with the normal activities of citizens’ lives and there are times when secrecy is critical to the preservation not only of national security, but of individual rights and liberties, as well. However, we must also be willing to say that national security and secrecy may not always interfere with the normal activities of citizens’ lives or trump the rights and liberties of individuals in society, as well.
Ultimately, the justification for giving this award to Mr. Snowden is simple: it is the right thing to do. There has been no individual in the past year who has done more for the cause of liberty than Mr. Snowden. No summer soldier or sunshine patriot, Mr. Snowden has proven himself to be an individual of impressive character and ability who has made the lives of unknown numbers of individuals freer.
While Mr. Snowden will be unable to join us in person at the 8th Annual International Students For Liberty Conference in Washington, DC from February 13th-15th, 2015 to accept the award for obvious reasons, I hope that Mr. Snowden will still be able to appreciate this well-deserving recognition.
President and Co-Founder of Students For Liberty