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A whistleblower or traitor?

Now that everyone knows the government has some sort of access to our phone records, attention has turned to any number of issues, big and small.

The big ones include how much privacy should Americans expect? What role should the courts play? Is technology moving too fast for the political and legal systems to catch up?

For us in the news business, a key question is what do we call Edward Snowden? Is he a traitor? A leaker? A source? A whistleblower?

Snowden, the onetime CIA employee who until this week was a contract national security employee of a private consulting concern, was fired Tuesday. He acknowledges that he turned over information to two newspapers.

But what do we call him? People may think he’s a traitor, but that doesn’t mean news organizations should call him that. On the other end, if “traitor” is too pejorative, “whistleblower” is too complimentary. It means someone who is exposing waste or corruption. We don’t know that about him, yet.

The Associated Press directs its staff to call him and others like him “leakers” or, even better, say exactly what he acknowledges he did. That sounds about right. It’s a small issue in the great scheme of things, but one that occupies a fair amount of our time.