At the same time, there are really interesting legal issues with Snowden, too. Granted, what Snowden did is clearly illegal. Snowden has pretty much admitted to his conduct, so there isn’t much in the way of drama on the legal issues there. (As usually happens when a crime is committed for ideological reasons, some who share the actor’s ideological views think that he shouldn’t be prosecuted and that any prosecution is really a “persecution.” But ideology aside, the illegality seems clear.) At the same time, Snowden’s effort to evade U.S. jurisdiction is fascinating from a legal standpoint; it reveals the limits of U.S. law enforcement in a global world with many countries not entirely friendly to U.S. interests. And the facts of what he did is the perfect symbol of the problem of keeping secrets in an Internet age. How do you design a way of keeping secrets when a single committed actor wants to frustrate that goal and can download all the secrets onto a thumb drive? These are fascinating and interesting questions, I think.
So there are two stories here. And given that, I don’t understand the claims of those who insist that the former is the “real story” and the latter a “distraction.” They’re both big stories, and it’s legitimate to cover them both.