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TIME Magazine Equates Whistleblowers With Spies in Cover Story on Snowden, Manning & Swartz

TIME cover for June 24, 2013 issue

Forty-six percent of Americans, according to an Ipsos/Reuters poll, do not know whether the NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who disclosed information on top secret surveillance programs, is a patriot or a traitor. They probably do not know if he is a whistleblower either, but, perhaps, they are interested in more information so they could decide.

Enter TIME magazine.

The magazine, which made “The Whistleblowers” the publication’s “Person of the Year” in 2002, has cast Snowden as part of a young generation of individuals who represent “something new.” These are “young people [who have] come of age in the defiant culture of the Internet.”

This “new” breed of individual, according to TIME, are also people like Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has confessed to disclosing United States government information to WikiLeaks and is on trial at Fort Meade, and Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide while the US Justice Department was zealously pursuing a prosecution of him for liberating documents from an academic database called JSTOR. And, they are labeled “The Informers.”

Jesselyn Radack, who heads the national security and human rights division of the Government Accountability Project and defends whistleblowers, reacted, “All three of these people were trying to either make information publicly available for more people to see or expose government crimes.” She added what TIME is doing is “equating whistleblowing to spying, which is pure propaganda.”

The story is titled, “The Geeks Who Leak,” a reference to the fact that these individuals come from a culture that has embraced hacktivism:

…[A]mong Snowden and Manning’s age group, from 18 to 34, the numbers are much higher, with 43% saying Snowden should not be prosecuted. That hacktivist ethos is growing around the world, driven in large part by young hackers who are increasingly disrupting all manner of institutional power with online protest and Internet theft. “That’s the most optimistic thing that is happening–the radicalization of the Internet-educated youth, people who are receiving their values from the Internet,” said Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in an April interview with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. “This is the political education of apolitical technical people. It is extraordinary.”

But, this conflates all young people who are skeptical of authority and institutions with those who are willing to engage in online protest or “Internet theft” and “hack” into systems or confront government agencies and powerful companies online.

It hypes the threat of hacking to present an argument that there are a strain of youth willing to break the law, as if the country does not have a historical tradition of civil disobedience.

Michael Scherer writes:

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."