Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are often spoken of in the same breath as two heroes of the budding revolution.
In effect though, they are two people championing two equally important principles — Julian Assange champions the right to transparency, and Edward Snowden is for the right to privacy.
These are not contradictory principles. You have the right to privacy, and you have the right to know. But never has America been so confused about when privacy is your right, and when transparency is your right. I saw Glenn Greenwald on Twitter recently tearing his hair out trying to explain where the difference between your rights in public life, and your rights to a private life, stood.
It’s actually very simple. You have a right to a private life as long as it does not impact others. It’s the live and let live principle. For example, if those DNC leaks had included sexting between Hillary and a random girlfriend — that is not in the public’s interest to know. That is her right to privacy. If that girlfriend happened to be the DNC chair, then that needs to be known because there is a conflict of interest issue that impinges on the people’s right to fair and evenhanded elections.
I’m not suggesting Hillary and Debbie got it on, by the way. It’s just a good example because if it was just an ordinary woman it would be salacious enough to interest the public, but it’s not the public’s right to know. If it was someone who was instated specifically to act as an impartial arbiter in a public election Hillary was running in, then it’s the public’s right to know. The public has a right to free and impartial elections and must be informed of any risk of favoritism or impropriety.
Do you see where the line lies? The public must be informed of abuses of power. That’s absolutely our right to know.
You work in public life, you hold public office, you are a public servant, your work is for the public, and it needs to be scrutinized by the public. That’s what you sign up for. That’s the deal.
Public servant. It’s right there in the name.
You’re making decisions with tax dollars. Public money. It’s not your money, it’s the people’s money. You don’t have a right to a private and public position; you’re a public servant, your public position is your position because you serve the public. The public is your boss.
When a public servant is making deals behind closed doors to continue fracking for example — that is not her right to make that deal on our behalf in secret. She can make that deal, sure, but it has to be public. It has to be scrutinized. Her electoral success has to be dependent on our approval or disapproval of what she is doing with the power we give her.
That’s how democracy works. We elect people to do our bidding, and when they stop doing our bidding, they lose the election and we put in someone else. The power rests with the electorate. That’s like, democracy. I can’t believe I have to explain it to people like it’s news but there you go.
Now theoretically, the media does the job of keeping the electorate informed about what their public servants are doing. It’s their job to shine a light on them at all times and scrutinize their use of our tax dollars.
Much to my disgust, the media has failed to do that almost completely, and it was left up to a programmer from Australia to do it for them.
He’s actually doing a better job than even the most earnest team of journos could do. By making privacy uncertain in public institutions, he’s created an atmosphere of self-awareness and self-policing. You can be sure that even the interns at the DNC right now are writing their correspondence with a mind to what it might look like to an outsider.
And that’s a good thing. It’s like a little inner journalist is following each of them around with his notebook and pencil and his little brown trilby hat with the “Press” card in it.
Of course, that also means that the corrupt ones will take their dodgy dealings offline, but that’s a good thing too. You can only organize so much white-collar crime offline. All that money with all those zeroes and who it was going to and what they were getting from it — that all needs to be written down! There’s a lot of paperwork in corruption because corruption necessitates keeping track of promises. If you don’t have the luxury of using Excel to track your bribes, then you have to downsize your corruption.
You have to pay what Assange called “cognitive secrecy tax” which will eventually result in a “system-wide cognitive decline.” In effect, your corruption is doomed to grow senile. He predicted all this in a blog ten years ago when he started WikiLeaks. This was his endgame, to have public servants constantly aware that they were acting in the public’s interest, not their own.
We’re not quite there, mostly because of a severe lack of entitlement on the public’s behalf. We forgot that we are the government’s boss.
We forgot that they answer to us. We forgot that we must retain the power to fire them and hire them. We forgot that they are using our money on our behalf and we are the ones who tell them what they must do with it. There is no private and public position when it comes to using our power and our money. It’s our power and our money. They answer to us and no one else.
But we’re on our way there, Julian. We’re definitely on our way.
[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]