How Should Kids Think About Snowden?

Ryan Calo
Ryan Calo, Assistant Professor UW School of Law & Faculty Director Tech Policy Lab

This blog post was written by Ryan Calo, an Assistant UW Law Professor with expertise in cyber law and privacy. 

If you ask an adult about NSA leaker Edward Snowden, you are just as likely to hear him characterized as a traitor as you are a hero. Generations previous to this one have the benefit of context in making this assessment. Baby Boomers in particular came of age amidst Watergate or the Pentagon Papers. My generation did not – though many of us were made aware of these events by our parents and other sources. We were in our twenties on September 11, 2001, some of us standing so close to the towers that we felt the heat of the second explosion on our faces.

Today’s teenagers were babies when those planes struck. They have grown up in a world of color-coded terror warnings. They have never boarded a plane without taking off their belts, never known a time when the United States did not indefinitely detain suspects. Simultaneously, and while “it’s complicated,” today’s teenagers might be hard-pressed to decide between forgoing food and forgoing Instagram in any given twenty-four-hour period.

So how would kids go about answering the question of whether Snowden is a traitor or a hero? Where can they gain the context to weigh concepts such as privacy and national security? Could you even find a teenager capable of articulating when it may be appropriate to defy authority in order to preserve liberty?

The answer is: you can find thousands. Because thousands of kids read the work of Cory Doctorow. Thousands of kids can quote to you Little Brother or Homeland by heart. Thousands of American children can see a trace of themselves in Snowden. I submit that whatever you think of Snowden and what he did, the protagonists and settings of Doctorow’s award-winning books equip young adults and others to think critically about civil liberty in this dangerous digital age.

If you know Doctorow’s work, chances are you will be excited to hear him speak at the University of Washington this coming Saturday, October 25. I encourage you to come even if you haven’t read his work yet. This is a rare chance to engage a leading public intellectual on among the most salient issues of our age, one whose audience includes the future of our republic. What will you ask?

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