By Jason Begin
In the midst of the Edward Snowden revelations one cannot help but ponder whether whistleblowing is always the ethical option or if there are other ways to protect your fellow citizens. Those who have been classified as whistleblowers, including Mark Felt, Daniel Ellsberg and Linda Tripp, all shared the same base feelings that the government was serving the public an injustice by hoarding certain information and it was their duty to release it to the public no matter the cost. Unlike many prominent whistleblowers, such as Jeffrey S. Wigand who released information about the cigarette companies to reduce their harmful impact in the 1990s, Edward Snowden’s story has disrupted the calm waters of the many American citizens by putting their information and lives at risk. By his need to improve the American’s awareness of their lack of privacy by releasing information pertaining to the online media, Snowden could have killed American soldiers and ruined the United States government’s techniques for monitoring and finding some of the most dangerous criminals.
For those who don’t know about Edward Snowden’s story I will try to give a summary of his prominence in America. Snowden, a former CIA agent was doing some work for the National Security Agency (NSA) as a third party contractor. By having a clean record in the NSA and government, Snowden was given certain privileges and was working with sensitive government and security information that is not just given to anyone. While on the job for the NSA, Snowden uncovered sensitive information pertaining to the government’s tracking of users of the World Wide Web. He had found that the NSA was tracking everyone’s web history by unscrambling certain encryptions including emails and other searches by using certain programs including those named as Boundless Informant, PRISM, XKeyscore, Tempora, MUSCULAR and FASCIA which were designed for the intended use. Additionally, he found that the government had been tracing phone calls and records of phone logs directly from the phone companies without a warrant. With this information the government had been tracking the “bad guys” including terrorists and other criminals. Essentially they would take note of people who had high activity of suspicious and illegal behavior. For example, the government would notice how certain people could be related to illegal activities based on their searches and whether they contacted other suspicious people thereby the NSA would be able to monitor activity that could eventually lead to attacks on the country and act before anything would occur.
With the information that Snowden had come across, he felt that it was his duty as an American citizen to allow everyone to know that they were being monitored. His set mission was to have the every American know that the government was tracking them on the Internet. (Well… duh.) Snowden took this information to two reputable documentary journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. After weeks of collaboration they released the sensitive information and set off a chain of events leading to Snowden’s notorious revelations.
Though they claim that it was necessary to inform the public, neither Snowden nor the journalists took into the consideration that they were putting others’ lives at risk. Snowden is currently in hiding under Putin’s protection in Russia. Since the events have occurred, Snowden has numerous spies and political organizations that want him killed because they feel that the way the revelations were exposed were the most ethical way to approach it. Snowden has a warrant in the United States and is trapped in Russia without a valid passport thus he cannot leave unless he gives himself up to the United States. The U.S. had made his passport invalid thereby revoking his privileges of traveling between countries. The U.S. has since tried to bargain with Russia to hand him over though attempts have not been in favor of the government. If Snowden ever stepped foot back on American soil he would immediately be arrested and tried for his espionage and possibly treason.
Ethics are one’s moral principal to do what is right for the common good. Some do agree with Snowden and say he has not caused any harm and even consider him a national hero. (I guess our modern day Bonnie and Clyde.) Coming from a fairly heightened technical background I believe all information should be public yet, I question if the information Snowden and the journalists revealed about the programs and soldier’s locations was the best decision. In a TED talk with Snowden, he said that his course of action was the best that they could come up with and the outcome was inevitable. He mentioned that if he had addressed the issue in court he would have been immediately shut turned away within “secret courts” just as the NSA had done with some of the leading web-based corporations including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple. Another one of Snowden’s revelations showed that the NSA forced these companies to reveal their user’s private information without consent to the US government. The companies were taken into private courts who forced them obey. In an article published by computerworld.com, Jaikumar Vijayan reports, “One result [of Snowden’s revelations] is that people appear to be scaling back their Internet use. Nearly half of the respondents have become more cautious about what they say, where they go and what they do on the Internet. About 25% are less inclined to use email these days because of the same reason. Of 1,000 U.S. adults asked whom they trusted the most with their personal information, 35% picked the Internal Revenue Service, while 18% chose the NSA. Just 10% of poll respondents said they trusted Google with their personal data while about 5% picked Facebook,” She continued with her report that “When the same respondents were asked whom they feared would violate their privacy the most, about 36% picked the NSA, and 18% the IRS. About 26% picked Facebook.” Interestingly enough, it seems that citizens fear those who have been chosen to protect us whereas they have much more trust in private corporations. It seems as though Snowden’s revelations, have instilled fear within the American population rather than alerting them of the true enemies such as drug smugglers or terrorists.
The prime controversy about Snowden’s revelations is whether they should have been released at all. Under the government’s monitoring, were any citizens being hurt? (No.) Excluding a couple risqué Google searches, does the average American really have anything to hide? For anyone who has not been contacting terrorists on a daily basis would essentially be overlooked by the programs the NSA uses. The NSA has no need to monitor the average citizen’s web history or phone logs because they simply have no time or use for it. (Sorry but your cat videos on YouTube are not a matter for the National Security.) The NSA’s target mission is deep within the World Wide Web way past your Facebook status updates abut watching Frozen for the 3rd time today or your tweets that your grande Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks that are just a little too cold (#firstworldprobs). The NSA is focused on an area called the Dark Internet, a place of crime, drug deals and other illegal activity (imagine the internet version of Mobile). The Dark Internet is accessible only by the use of passwords and encrypted programs. It’s so hidden that most citizens have never even heard about it.
Taking all of this into consideration I can only wonder how and why the events that came into play happened as they did. Why would Snowden feel that it was his duty release the information? Did he feel that this information was more important than the soldiers’ lives he had put at risk? Was it his ego or personal need for international fame that made him release his revelations? Was there a better way to go about alerting the American public without putting lives in danger? I support a free and open online market but shouldn’t it be our government’s duty to protect, honor and defend every American citizen?