Edward Snowden joined the ranks of international whistleblowers when he chose to release documents that are considered as secret intelligence and airing out too much information on the operations of the government especially with respect to surveillance. In his interview with Lawrence Lessig, the former NSA employee sought to explain his perspective and justifications for his actions. This essay narrows on the sections of the interview that focuses on the questions of values, right or wrong/ hero or traitor arguments in order to establish the ethical systems employed by the government, Mr. Snowden, the reporters who broke the case, and any other significant players
In this case, Mr. Snowden was driven by the ideology of accountability and public interest. He acknowledges the importance of government surveillance but also goes ahead to cite that the public is not involved in most of the decisions and operations undertaken by the government (Lessig, 2014). His main motivation is that the government violates the constitution more frequently than justifiable thus the need for someone to watch out for the public. His stand on the issue is that of a public servant with utmost allegiance to the public and not to the government. On one hand, this is reasonable seeing as the public servant’s ultimate employer is the public and not just the government.
The irony of this case is also that by initiating the surveillance project, the government was also mainly considering public interest with respect to national security especially considering the global war on terrorism among other security concerns (Brown, 2014). The various surveillance techniques employed by the NSA are largely in violation of the Fourth Amendment but they are by far the best mechanism for fighting terrorism in the country. The ethical system here is thus that of consequentialist where the end is considered to justify the means. The problem with this is the secrecy that the government has chosen to embrace rather than inclusion and clarity. It can be appreciated that in the interview Mr. Snowden does not in any way condemn the activities of the NSA but rather seeks to enlighten the public of these activities.
By making him a wanted man in the US, the government is also going against the idea of free speech in the country. The information released by the former NSA employee is rather sensitive but only serves to demonize the government rather than exposing national secrets. It may serve as a warning to those who are on the wrong side of the law but it does not endanger the country in any way. Australia and Indonesia may have a bone to pick with this man but the US is rather suspicious by going after him. If the facts are true then he has nothing to answer for.
When giving the information to the journalists, Mr. Snowden reports to have asked them not to release information that would harm anyone. He neither gets them to sign a binding agreement nor contract but rather, he trusts that they will not intentionally harm any person or state using the information that he gives them. The ethical consideration here is with respect to doing no harm, where the whistleblower trusts that the journalists will not release harmful information. So far, the journalists have not complied thus implying that they have failed to live up to the whistleblower’s expectations of their ethical standards.
Another player in this case is Russia, which have not only offered Mr. Snowden asylum but are also extending him the FSB lawyer to represent him. While the whistleblower repeatedly states that he does not work for Russia there is seemingly some ulterior motive on the Russian side of this story. It may be possible that Edward Snowden is not working for Russia and that his only interest in releasing the files was in protecting public interest and allowing the American and international citizens a chance to see what their governments are up to (McChesney, 2014). Russia is however acting very suspiciously especially seeing as they have a long-standing ‘cold war’ with the US. They seem to be exploiting the case to their advantage with the aim of learning some NSA secrets for themselves.