Let me be clear: Edward Snowden is a hero

The hyperbole that followed yesterday’s story was astonishing – Professor Anthony Glees reportedly branded Snowden “a villain of the first order” – Darth Vader eat your heart out.

So let me be completely clear: Edward Snowden is a hero. Saying so does not make me an apologist for terror – it makes me a firm believer in democracy and the rule of law. Whether you are with or against Liberty in the debate about proportionate surveillance, Anderson must be right to say that the people and our representatives should know about capabilities and practices built and conducted in our name.

For years, UK and US governments broke the law. For years, they hid the sheer scale of their spying practices not just from the British public, but from parliament. Without Snowden – and the legal challenges by Liberty and other campaigners that followed – we wouldn’t have a clue what they were up to.

A debate about surveillance powers in the internet age is not best advanced by that all-pervading slogan: “nothing to hide, nothing to fear.” We cannot have a risk-free society, and it is too much to expect of the agencies or the law to deliver it. But surely we can have an open and balanced discussion about how we adapt to new threats while safeguarding the intimacy and dignity rightly craved by human beings.