FOI Update: NSA whistle-blower on the run, Judge Vinson attends security conference, speculation of presidential power abuses

After Edward Snowden outted himself as the whistle-blower who unveiled the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, he allegedly fled the Hong Kong hotel room he was hiding out on June 10, according to Fox News.

On the morning of June 11, Snowden’s whereabouts were still unknown, but Hong Kong newspapers plastered with his image called him the “World’s Most Wanted Man.”

Fox News reports that if the Justice Department catches and charges Snowden, it’s likely to ask the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) for “a provisional request to arrest him pending extradition to the United States.”

Meanwhile a community of whistle-blowers spouted praise for Snowden in a series of letters published June 10 on the Guardian, commending his courage in revealing himself and standing up to one of the world’s most powerful security agencies.

In related news, The Center for Public Integrity collected disclosure records that revealed the judge who signed the court order requiring Verizon to give its customers’ telephone records to the NSA went to a seminar on strong executive branch powers in August 2008.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson attended lectures about the balance of civil liberties and national security, especially in times of terror, at the “Terrorism, Civil Liberty, & National Security” seminar sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE).

Vinson began his term on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2006, and it just expired in May.

Although Americans are largely divided about whether NSA’s surveillance is warranted to protect national security, The Atlantic published a provocative article June 7 urging Americans to consider the potential abuses of power that could ensue if a dictator seizes control of our current security infrastructure in the 2016 election.

Politics writer Conor Friedersdorf said Americans are too trusting of their own leaders and too fearful of potential terror threats that may or may not be real. But he said there is one very real threat to American security: Citizens giving up our Constitutional rights and liberties to presidents we trust, creating a dangerous precedent for when someone we may not even know now inherits those same presidential powers in the future.

“In less than four years, an unknown person will start presiding over the national-security state. He or she will be an ambitious power seeker who will guiltlessly misrepresent his or her character to appeal to different voters, lie countless times on the campaign trail, and break numerous promises while in office. That’s a best-case scenario that happens every time!”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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