When Edward Snowden starts his official fanclub, he shouldn’t expect Bill Gates to sign up. The richest man in the world isn’t much of a fan at all, it turns out. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gates outlined his view of Snowden in the context of his methods, and privacy itself.
Answering the question as to whether he viewed that Snowden was a hero, or a traitor, Gates hedged slightly, but leaned noticeably in one direction:
I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn’t characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of “OK, I’m really trying to improve things.” You won’t find much admiration from me.
The test of If Break The Law, Then Not Hero is quite silly, especially since Gates mentions in the next sentence that “civil disobedience” would have been a better option.
Gates was then asked if it is “better now that we know what we know about government surveillance?” Gates:
The government has such ability to do these things. There has to be a debate. But the specific techniques they use become unavailable if they’re discussed in detail. So the debate needs to be about the general notion of under what circumstances should they be allowed to do things.
What I find interesting about the above is that Microsoft as a company has been active regarding the NSA’s activities, and the larger surveillance state. Microsoft joined Google in suing the government for the ability to share more about governmental requests for its users’ data.
Happily, Snowden’s contributions to the world help you whether you like the man behind them or not.