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Edward Snowden - Hero or Traitor?

While many Americans blame him for putting their lives at risk by revealing secret information, others view him as a hero for making them aware of how human rights, such as the right to privacy, are violated.

Avisforsider med bilder av Edward Snowden og president Obama. Foto.

Who Is Edward Snowden?

In June 2013, this face appeared on screens and front pages all over the world. A few weeks earlier Edward Joseph Snowden (b. 1983) had met with two reporters. One of the reporters was Glenn Greenwald. In Hong Kong, Snowden decided to hand over classified documents from his employer, a company with close links to the American National Security Agency (NSA). In his work as an infrastructure analyst Snowden had come across a massive internet and phone surveillance program initiated by the American and British governments.

Most notably, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a supposed ally, not an enemy of the USA, was among the persons who had been subjected to phone tapping. Snowden's leak of classified information made him one of the most wanted men in the world. He currently lives in refuge in Russia, and Putin, the Russian president, has characterized him as a champion for human rights. Snowden, the whistle-blower, is one of the reasons why US - Russia relations, that had improved since the Cold War, are strained at the moment.

Useful Words


transparency, surveillance, monitoring, data privacy, dystopian, alienation, totalitarian, censorship, dissenters, whistle-blower, hacking, intelligence, interception, supervision, CCTV camera

Interview With Edward Snowden

In this interview (35 min.) recorded in March 2014, Edward Snowden reflects on his revelation of classified material. What made him do it? Has he committed a crime? Has he put the security of nations at risk? Was it a brave and admirable thing to do? Watch the interview on TED. It is recommended to use the English subtitles.

After watching the video, answer these questions:

  1. How does he characterize himself? Does he recognize himself as a whistle-blower, traitor or hero?
  2. Interpret what he might mean by stating: "I am an American.."
  3. How did he get access to the classfied material?
  4. What does he answer when asked what propelled him to leak the information?
  5. Snowden remarks that intelligence does things that are good and things that should not be done. What things is he referring to that are good and bad respectively?
  6. Why did he not go to Congress with the information he had?
  7. He ended up trusting the information to journalists? Why?
  8. In what respect does he mention the 1st Amendment?
  9. What was the intention behind the PRISM program?
  10. Why did he see PRISM as a severe attack on human rights?
  11. What does Snowden say about cyber hacking?
  12. In what context is Snowden talking about Google and Yahoo?
  13. Snowden compares the use of surveillance in the USA and Russia. Why is his conclusion alarming?
  14. What measures is Snowden suggesting to secure a free and open Internet?
  15. How does Snowden characterize the anti-terror programs initiated by the USA?
  16. It is maintained that whether people tend to see Snowden as a hero or traitor, does not depend on political views. What aspect do they think is more relevant? Why?
  17. What references are given to Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and Big Brother?
  18. Snowden winds up the interview by giving a message. Which?

President Obama About the Mass Surveillance Programs

After the leak of sensational information about programs monitoring internet and telephone communication among supposed enemies and allies alike, President Barack Obama had to make a statement. Watch a video clip from his speech in June 2013.

Obama defends internet surveillance programs

After watching the clip, answer these questions:

  1. Why was the President sceptical when he got to know about the programs?
  2. What made him change his mind?
  3. How does he defend the programs?
  4. Explain the point he is making about finding a balance.
  5. How does he try to convince the audience? Does he succeed, do you think?

Make a Talk Show

Famous TV hosts like Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman would see an interview with Edward Snowden as the major achievement in their career.

Pretend you are a TV host and have made the great catch - an interview with Edward Snowden and President Barack Obama. Due to Snowden's current asylum, he has to be interviewed by means of a network television transmission.


How to make your own talk show

A TV host has to do a lot of research:

Make a Demonstration Poster

A committee called, Give Us the Internet Back, has planned a big demonstration. You are supposed to make the posters. What headlines would you make? Make a digital collage of your posters.


  • Make a conversation where one student asks questions about deleting the footprints he/she makes online and another student gives relevant advice.

    Use "delete me", "erase me" or "slett meg" as search words and find relevant information before you start the conversation.

  • Make a class debate where one half supports the views of President Barack Obama and many of his fellow Americans and the other half favors Snowden's views. Prepare well by studying arguments pro et con before starting the debate.


  • Is Edward Snowden a hero or traitor?
  • In what way does mass surveillance represent a threat against human rights?
Sist oppdatert 13.11.2018
Skrevet av Eli M. Huseby


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