Some find him a hero. Others have already labeled him a traitor. However, he rests somewhere in between, perhaps diving deeper into the "villain" end of the pool as days progress.
A moral person with high regard for individual natural rights protected and guaranteed by the US Constitution has to hold some level of admiration for the young man. Knowing he would be breaking some laws, he decided to take what he saw to be the hard right over the easy wrong.
The violations done through the DoJ's partnership with the NSA infuriate the sensibilities of anyone that supports the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. Despite some judicially created loophole from a federal court decision in 1979; personal information should be kept private and/or confidential. In these days where identity theft is rampant, the necessity to safeguard this information is paramount. Yet, that decision in 1979 holds that personal information on private citizens belongs to the telecommunications companies and not to the individual citizens whose information the data contains. The Privacy Act of 1974 seems largely ignored in this whole debacle, as well.
The fortuity of whether or not the phone company in fact elects to make a quasi-permanent record of a particular number dialed does not, in our view, make any constitutional difference. Regardless of the phone company's election, petitioner voluntarily conveyed to it information that it had facilities for recording and that it was free to record. In these circumstances, petitioner assumed the risk that the information would be divulged to police. Under petitioner's theory, Fourth Amendment protection would exist, or not, depending on how the telephone company chose to define local-dialing zones, and depending on how it chose to bill its customers for local calls. Calls placed across town, or dialed directly, would be protected; calls placed across the river, or dialed with operator assistance, might not be. We are not inclined to make a crazy quilt of the Fourth Amendment, especially in circumstances where (as here) the pattern of protection would be dictated by billing practices of a private corporation.
We therefore conclude that petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and that, even if he did, his expectation was not "legitimate." The installation and use of a pen register, [442 U.S. 735, 746] consequently, was not a "search," and no warrant was required. ~Smith v Maryland, Justice Blackmun, 1979
Snowden divulged the information concerning the PRISM project and other violations of the public trust he perceived the NSA and DoJ to be guilty of. He took a stand and took action. Was this disclosure an ethically and morally right thing to do? Arguably, yes. Was it legal? No. Was it treason or espionage? That is so debatable it is best left to the court system to decide.
Where Snowden first crossed the line was in divulging that information to a foreigner. He leaked the information to the foreign press. From an Information Operations point of view, it was a sound tactic. Had he disclosed through a US-based media outlet, his story may have been covered up, ignored, or relegated to only a few conservative-leaning reporters. It would not have gotten mass-media attention across the spectrum. Still, it was illegal.
However, Snowden's disclosure of state secrets did not stop with blowing the whistle on the NSA's violations of Intelligence Oversight. Reportedly, he has given information regarding the US's cyber-warfare capabilities to China. He has also allegedly disclosed information about US's intelligence allies' abilities. If he did so, he has crippled US capabilities. Actions of this sort are equivalent to Caincross, Fuchs, and the Rosenbergs' passing of US nuclear technology and capabilities to the USSR. The Rosenbergs were found guilty and executed.
In the military, there is a saying: "10 'Atta-boys' are erased by a single 'screw-up'" [cleaned-up, PC version]. Well, Snowden's one "Atta-boy" just may have been thrust into non-existence by more than one other violation.
If you want to compare Snowden to Manning, Manning doesn't have even that small measure of redemption in revealing potential crimes being committed against US Citizens. Snowden at least had that. However, more and more it is seeming as though Snowden may have been more glory-questing than initially thought. His intentions may have not been as moral as he first claimed. Had they been, he would probably have been less willing to compromise other programs necessary to national defense, particularly those that do not target US Citizens.
In both cases, Julian Assange's name joins the discussion. Assange runs a company called "Wikileaks" whose sole purpose is to disclose national security related intelligence to the world in an effort to destroy all separate governments. He does this under an ideology of imposing a one-world tyranny over all nations.
It turns out that Assange is supporting and facilitating Snowden. He reportedly intends to leak more secrets that Snowden intends to divulge. In addition, Assange, who is currently an international fugitive after his part in Manning's intentional disclosures, among other crimes, may be assisting Snowden in his evasion.
The US Government is already seeking the capture and extradition of Snowden. China indicated that they may not be cooperative because they can argue that Snowden is sought for political reasons and not for crimes. Since announcing the intent to extradite and charge Snowden, the US Department of Justice has, now less than, 60 days to file an official indictment against him.
US Citizens should want to see the man properly and legally tried. His case needs to be heard. Perhaps he should be vindicated for his disclosure of the DoD spying on US Citizens, especially those not engaged in international dealings of any sort. However, if he is a moral man, he also needs to accept the consequences of any other crimes he may have committed beyond exposing the PRISM project.