Eugene Robinson writes that there are two choices for person of the year, Pope Francis and Edward Snowden–and he argues for the latter. Pope Francis, "by shifting his church’s focus to social justice, may change the world." Snowden, in Robinson's estimation, already has by revealing the extent of government surveillance in America and the world:
[Snowden] was an obscure analyst working for a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor at a remote outpost in Hawaii. When he began working in the secret world, by his own telling, he was a true believer. But he became disillusioned — and then incensed — at what he considered outrageous violations of individual privacy by a surveillance apparatus that was out of control.
Snowden’s decision to leak massive amounts of information concerning some of the NSA’s most secret and intrusive spying programs has done more than embarrass officials in Washington. It has galvanized efforts throughout the world to protect what little privacy we have left.
Snowden’s revelations are devastating in their specificity. Americans know that all of our phone calls are logged by the government in a massive database. German Chancellor Angela Merkel knows that the NSA tapped her mobile phone. Brazilians and Indonesians, among others, know that their phone conversations may be listened to and their e-mails may be perused.
We know that secret court orders have forced phone companies and Internet providers to surrender private information. We also know that, unbeknown to those companies, the NSA and its partners — the equivalent spy agencies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — apparently tap into fiber-optic cables and guzzle as much information as they can.
These ongoing disclosures provide a detailed map of a shadow realm that spans the globe. We now know how technology is destroying privacy — and what steps governments and communications companies must be pressured to take in order that privacy survives.
I can’t think of any individual who had more influence in 2013. Edward Snowden is the person of the year.