One 29-year old Booz Allen Hamilton employee, Edward Snowden, is reportedly the person who "blew the whistle" on the National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM project. Said project is reportedly gathering phone/e-mail/internet information on every American citizen. There are of course 2 sides to the discussion about his act(s).
One side says he's a hero for dropping a dime on the tyrannical federal government abuse of power and the other says he's a traitorous terrorist operative. Meanwhile the executive branch is attempting to deflect criticism by supporting the demonization of Snowden while saying that inadvertently captured data on citizens was destroyed.
Frankly, I think there's some level of disinformation being promulgated by all parties to this. Here's what I think the "facts" are as best as we can (or may ever) know right now.
A man named Edward Snowden is/was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton. Implied in that admission is that he did have access to the information he claimed to have. We have long known that the government is indeed looking at as many communications (via any media) with overseas terrorists as they possibly can. We have also been told that the government has, of course, the ability to do the same with in-country communications.
Now for the implications...
Let's get real. There are some "truisms" that apply. If it can be done it will be done. What is legal isn't necessarily right/moral/ethical/constitutional. What can go wrong will go wrong. For these reasons I believe that the NSA is indeed capturing all possible data on all communications inside and outside the country. Aside from the problem of data storage it is probably easier to apply filters when searching the content than it is to apply filters to capturing content. Like a looter they are just grabbing all they can and sort it out as the opportunity presents or circumstance demands.
Given the number of people with access it is likely that somebody is abusing this capability in some way. Maybe it is as "innocent" as some employee checking out a spouse to make sure they aren't having an affair. Maybe it is some employee having a voyeuristic peek at some citizen(s) life. Just maybe it is the government actually gone fishing on 309 million Americans.
That last is the thing that the government is not supposed to do. It is but one step in subjugation of a people. Other countries have tried it before but technology (or the lack of technology) made such efforts come up a bit short. This is the reason many people feel a bit nervous about this.
So is Mr. Snowden (and others like him) a patriot or a traitor? We may never know. Certainly the government has to treat him as a traitor. He apparently knows that, after all he ran away to China. That's just fine. But we will likely never know the reason he has done what he has done and that is what we must know to define him as a patriot, somebody who puts country (all fellow citizens) first.
PS - it is now the 14th of June and we have learned that Snowden hasn't just dropped a dime on the domestic collection of data but apparently had/has information on our legitimate spying on the People's Republic of China (PRC). Further, he is apparently using that information to give him some leeway in his use of Hong Kong as a safe haven. To my mind what he has done is attempt, for some reason best known by himself and perhaps by his PRC handler, to use the domestic spying info to make him seem like a hero when he is nothing more than a turncoat spy who happened to also reveal the abuse of US citizens by their own government. No hero. Traitor. Benedict Arnold redux.
PPS- now the 22nd of June and it was announced that Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” according to the complaint. The last two charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. The complaint is sealed. This is to be expected.