Why Edward Snowden is The Switch’s Person of the Year

December 11, 2013

(The Guardian/AFP/Getty Images)

Time announced its person of the year Wednesday -- and got it wrong. The news magazine went with Pope Francis, passing over former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Obviously, Pope Francis is an important figure who has a significant effect on the news and the lives of millions of Catholics around the world. He is an dynamic figure who represents a major shift for the Vatican -- and there's a reason his selection process tripled online video streaming around the world. But Time's mandate for "Person of the Year" is to choose the person who "most influenced the news this year." And that person was Edward Snowden.

To some, including the politicians who have termed him a "traitor," Snowden is a controversial figure. To others, including the over 140,000 people who signed a (yet unanswered) White House petition calling for him to be pardoned, he's a "national hero." But Time's person of the year isn't supposed to be a popularity contest: Previous selections include Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatollah Khomeini. That's why we here at The Switch are naming Snowden our "Person of the Year."

By leaking details about the clandestine programs in use by the NSA and its surveillance partners around the world, Snowden has ignited a fierce debate about the meaning of civil liberties in the 21st century in the United States and abroad. In story after story, the public is learning the true breadth of digital surveillance permeating the Internet age.

From the dragnet collection of domestic cellphone metadata and of online content through programs like PRISM to revealing the actual breakdown of U.S. intelligence spending, Snowden's leaks have dramatically disrupted the cloud of secrecy surrounding surveillance practices in a way that will change public discourse for years to come.

But given the commentary from national security sources and news outlets about the sheer volume of documents still waiting to be reported on, Time may have an opportunity to highlight Snowden's importance again next year.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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