Edward Snowden Is A Whistleblower
Monday, November 25, 2013
Some Americans, such as Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker, declare that Edward Snowden is "grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison" [1]. He - as well as government leaders such as President Obama and various Senators - states that Snowden's leaks did not demonstrate true violations but rather only exposed government policies that "failed to meet his own standards of propriety" [1]. Thus, his disclosure of classified information is simply a crime, not a "great public service that more than outweighs any breach of trust he may have committed" [2]. I disagree with this view. Snowden is a whistleblower who did not simply dump information to hurt the United States, but rather revealed government abuses in such a way that the public is now able to propose changes and reviews that will lead to future transparency, morality, and reform.
No one can make a claim on Snowden's internal reasoning or motivations. However, a careful analysis of his actions and words can shed light on whether his information leaking falls under the Constitutional protections of free speech and free press or rather if it was an action worthy of prosecution. In particular, Snowden has been accused of disregarding the security of the United States and the success of its foreign diplomacy in his selfish pursuit for fame and acknowledgement. Yet this is clearly not the case when considering the content of the information that Snowden leaked as well as his method of releasing it. According to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke Snowden's story, "Snowden spent months meticulously studying every document. He didn't just upload them to the Internet" [2]. This was not a data dump in the style of Manning. Snowden released only a few, extremely significant pieces of information [3]. In fact, when Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistleblower of the Pentagon Papers, was asked whether Snowden and Manning had "been discerning what they chose to release publicly," he responded "Yes, that's obvious with Snowden" [4]. Though Snowden's judgment has received some criticism when the Washington Post "decided to publish only four of the forty-one slides that [he] provided" because it thought they "should not be disseminated to the public" [1], this actually emphasizes his caution by obtaining a secondary judgment by credible journalists (rather than posting the files directly to a public site as Manning did).
Each document Snowden chose to reveal was directly related to the lives of Americans. He provided evidence on the 2015 Program, which "gets data from service providers like Verizon in bulk" [5], and PRISM, which "gathers data from Internet companies like Google, Facebook, and others" [5]. His documents also demonstrated the adverse side-effects of federal laws like FAA 702, which allows the government to save "incidental data" such as "IPs, raw data, content, attachments" [5] that is gathered along with anonymous data though its collection is never specifically approved by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court. These various government projects violate the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Though the government states that these projects are necessary in maintaining national security, Snowden's actions echo the words of founding father James Madison: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.... The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."
Whistleblowing is defined in the Whistleblower Protection Act as "making a disclosure evidencing illegal or improper government activities" [6]. Though the intelligence community is exempted from this protection, Snowden's disclosure does evidence an "abuse of authority" [7] and thus falls under the general principles of whistleblowing. In fact, whistleblowers from the intelligence community should be valued particularly because of the "absence of the governmental checks and balances...in the areas of national defense and international affairs" [8]. This was true during the time of Daniel Ellsberg and continues to be true now. An "informed and critical public opinion" [8] is essential to "protect the values of democratic government" [8], especially now that "there is a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows" [9]. In fact, Snowden's revelations provide evidence that the government is not only violating the Constitution without the consent of the people, but is also providing "false and misleading testimony...that threatens democratic control of government" [7].
The positive effect of Snowden's revelations is perhaps most apparent in public and governmental response. According to Michael German of the ACLU, in the two months since the disclosures, "no fewer than five lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of the surveillance programs" and "over a dozen bills have been introduced in Congress to narrow these now public surveillance authorities and increase transparency" [7]. These are clearly positive changes that demonstrate the importance of an "informed representative government" [8] that can challenge "questionable activities that those in power would rather have kept secret" [2] and reinforce Snowden's place in history as an important whistleblower.
[1] Toobin, Jeffrey. "Edward Snowden Is No Hero." The New Yorker. 10 June 2013. Web.
[2] Cassidy, John. "Why Edward Snowden Is A Hero." The New Yorker. 10 June 2013. Web.
[3] "Revealed Documents." Free Snowden. Web.
[4] Neuman, Scott. "Pentagon Papers Leaker Daniel Ellsberg Praises Snowden, Manning." National Public Radio. 03 August 2013. Web.
[5] Walton, Zach. "Can We Trust Our Government Not To Spy On Us?" Web Pro News. 18 June 2013. Web.
[6] Whitaker, L. Paige. "The Whistleblower Protection Act: An Overview." Congressional Research Service. 12 March 2007. Web.
[7] German, Michael. "Edward Snowden Is A Whistleblower." American Civil Liberties Union. 01 August 2013. Web.
[8] Supreme Court of the United States. New York Times Co. v. United States. 30 June 1971. Web.
[9] Greenwald, Glenn. "NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily." The Guardian. 05 June 2013. Web.