Park views: Snowden, snooping, safety vs. privacy

Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, leaked top-secret documents that revealed the U.S. government’s mass surveillance programs. Now hiding out in Russia and seeking asylum in Latin America, Snowden follows in the footsteps of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has since taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The Villager recently asked some Washington Square parkgoers what they thought of Snowden and the U.S. government’s surveillance activities.

snowden,-Robert-Klein-Robert Klein, 65
Retired; Brooklyn

What do you think of the Edward Snowden situation?
Well, the idea that there’s too much spying on the American people, I agree with. But he broke the law. If he thought something was being done incorrectly, there are people in the government that he can go scream to, but he certainly shouldn’t have run to Russia and now looking to go to South America. If you do something and you do it on principle, then suffer the consequences. If I decided to work for the federal government and I had privileged information, and I decided that they weren’t doing the right thing — it would be chaos. You can’t have everybody deciding what the law should and shouldn’t be. If he went through the channels and saw nothing happens, O.K., stand up, have a press conference, and say, “Arrest me, but this is going on and I want a trial and I want to say what the government is doing that’s wrong.” But you don’t run away. He’s going to countries that are worse than anything our government does. He would be dead in those countries if he did what he did there.

Are you concerned that the government collects information about you?
I am, but there has to be a balance. What the balance is I don’t have the information to know. Unfortunately, the world we live in, you can’t have complete freedom. If something blew up in New York City, I’d be screaming, you’d be screaming: “How come the government didn’t put the pieces together?”

Of all the governments, ours is the best. Perfect, no, but it’s the best of the lot. I can sit here and bitch about the government and no one’s going to come and arrest me. In China, I’d do five years for talking about the government. In Russia, Putin would say I stole money and put me away for 10 years. Here you can run your mouth; there are ways of speaking out and saying what’s wrong. Do you always correct it? No. But no one puts you away for saying it and trying to get it corrected.

Do you think gathering people’s information is necessary for national security?
Yes, to a point, of course. The world needs a certain amount of eavesdropping and spying, because how else is the government going to know what’s wrong?


Pastor Downes
Minister; New Jersey

What do you think of the Edward Snowden situation?
Well, it’s a difficult thing to fault, because everybody knows the government spies — that’s a given. I don’t know what his motive really was, and I think that’s the key. What was he really trying to do?

Do you support what Snowden did?
Yes and no. If the circumstances were a little bit more of a crisis, I think I could support him. But I just think it’s a little silly. He didn’t accomplish anything but get himself ostracized and run away.

Are you concerned about the government’s invasion of your privacy?
I’m not worried about the government spying because they don’t care about me. But I don’t think they should be spying on the level that they are. If they’ve got a clue on something, then follow it up. But if they’re just spying because they say, “Let’s check this guy out,” I don’t go for that. But we need some kind of surveillance, especially these days when you never know what’s going to happen. I think a little bit is necessary, within limits.


Jason Murak, 20
Traveler; Portland, Oregon

What do you think of the Edward Snowden situation?
I think it’s lame that he has to run away to Russia to hide because he leaked that information. I think that’s something that the people should be readily knowledgeable of.

Do you support what he did?
Yes. There’s proper channels for the government to be telling us things, but they dam things up and don’t really tell us everything. I support Snowden. I think we should bring him home.

Are you concerned about the government’s invasion of your privacy?
Yes, a little bit. I just worry about how tied to technology everybody is, and how everybody’s leaving a trace with what they use their technology for, and these traces are stored somewhere, I’m sure. It’s kind of weird that they can catalog everything that we do.

Do you think gathering people’s information is necessary for national security?
It may be necessary, because there are things that they’re probably trying to catch that are important for our safety — people who are doing things that are not in line, people that have things to worry about, maybe. I don’t know.


Anna Schinke, 30
N.Y.U. biochemistry Ph.D. student; Roosevelt Island

What do you think of the Edward Snowden situation? Do you support what he did?
I think, yes, because he felt it’s not right and the public should know, and I think it was a big step for him.

Do you think the way he did it was right?
Probably, yes. He needed to get the public’s attention.

Are you concerned about the government’s invasion of your privacy?
Yes, I’m from Europe and, especially in Germany, we protect our data much more, I think. For Germany it’s really a big deal for the government to get all your information.

Do you think gathering people’s information is necessary for national security?
No. I think you have to get it earlier. Like, why are terrorists attacking the country?


Charles Peterson, 38
N.Y.U. Fire Safety Director / Accountant; Brooklyn

What do you think of the Edward Snowden situation? Do you support what he did?
No. He was there to do a job. When he took the job with the N.S.A. he knew he was sworn to secrecy.

Everybody else is doing the same thing that we do. Now with the Snowden thing, everybody thinks it’s only the United States, when every country does it. I think he should be prosecuted. He’s not a Rosa Parks, and he’s not a Dr. King, because these people broke the law — which was an unjust law — but they stood and they took the punishment and they changed things.

But this guy said what he said and he ran. So what good is that? I think he should be prosecuted as a criminal, which he is. He was in possession of stolen property. If I were to do that at my job, I would be fined and possibly criminal charges would be brought against me, because that’s United States property.

Do you think it’s important for people to know that their government is spying on them?
They can’t know everything that’s involved with the government. No country does that. That’s why we have the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. I mean, there are cameras all over N.Y.U. Everywhere we go, your picture’s probably taken — more times a day than you even know about. I mean, it’s part of our protection. You have to do these things. There’re so many times when people have been caught doing things they shouldn’t have been doing, and we don’t even know about it. Everybody goes on with their lives — who cares, everything’s nice and free — but there are people looking out for you.

Are you concerned about the government’s invasion of your privacy?
No. Don’t get me wrong, people who are suspicious, they’re gonna check ’em out. This guy should be brought back. He’s a coward. I have no sympathy for him. Venezuela’s going to take him, I guess, one of our enemies. God bless him. But he’s not a good person. He’s certainly not American. Just because you’re born here it doesn’t make you an American.

–  Interviews and photos by Clarissa-Jan Lim


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