Edward Snowden’s escape route traces an international path of global hypocrisy when it comes to freedom of the press or protection against government surveillance.
Snowden claimed to be protesting against such surveillance and defending freedom of information. Yet he took refuge in Hong Kong, which is technically part of China, whose regime controls the country’s internet portals, blocks content, and monitors individual access. Snowden wouldn’t have been permitted to leave Hong Kong without a green light from Beijing.
The Chinese censor all other media and have “the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world,” according to Amnesty International. As for broader surveillance world-wide, Chinese government hackers have conducted massive commercial and military espionage in the United States (and presumably elsewhere) and even breached Google’s computers.
Then on to Moscow, where the state controls (and censors) all major newspapers and national TV networks, which are still the major news source for the bulk of the population. Pesky journalists tend to get beaten up or murdered, and the perpetrators, conveniently, are never found. Vladimir Putin has ruled out the extradition of Snowden, who may still be in the transit area of a Moscow airport.
Snowden’s final destination – possibly Ecuador via Venezuela – is equally ironic. As pointed out in a blog by Bill Sweeney, the editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Venezuela has shut down independent broadcasters via a system of politicized regulations. As for Ecuador, its president, Rafael Correa, has criminalized reporting that is critical of his government - and prosecuted journalists who attempt it.
Whatever the critique of the NSA’s surveillance of phone or internet records, that surveillance is limited by congressional rules and subject to court oversight (and is aimed at foreign terrorist threats, not domestic political critics). No such niceties are observed by the governments along Snowden’s escape route.