Edward Snowden was living a privileged life. He lived comfortably, working at a desk job in Hawaii, and was paid handsomely to do it. But there was a catch. He was being asked to spy on American citizens, in an all intrusive manor, encompassing every recorded detail of our day to day lives, and all part of a program without the knowledge or consent of the public. So he stepped away from his job with the NSA, and leaked the existence of this program to the media. "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things", he said.
The civil libertarian in me applauds his actions. I listen to him thoughtfully lay out his case for the decision he made, and can come to the same conclusions. The government should have no authority to unilaterally impose Orwellian surveillance programs on their own people without the informed consent of the public. There is no good excuse for this reach for power.
Now, if politicians could have a public debate about the merits of such a program, and an open vote to enact it, I'd be singing a different tune. After all, this program probably does save lives, and it is up to the people to decide how much they are willing to compromise their personal liberties and privacy in the name of security. But that is not what happened here. The US government kept it secret in hopes of making it a more effective tool. But claiming that mere revelation of the program's existence, something that has even widely assumed to have already been in place, that it could fatally cripple it's viability in gathering intelligence... well that is just absurd. Any major nation that could do us damage assuredly knew of the existence of such a program to begin with. For individuals, the revelation of this program will not likely change their online behaviors. Any terrorist organization which must further isolate itself from modern communication technologies is likely to become less effective.
The only important reason to hide it is fear that the American people would not grant them such sweeping authority. We live in a world where more and more power is concentrated in fewer hands. In a land founded in the name of liberty, to be governed by the people, we instead creep ever closer to granting Caesar the reigns, and letting the republic fall in its wayside. Democracy is the light, but it's dusk approaches.