Case Study – Edward Snowden: Traitor or Hero? 1
Edward Snowden: Traitor or Hero?
In 2013, computer expert and former CIA systems administrator, Edward Snowden
released confidential government documents to the press about the existence of
government surveillance programs. According to many legal experts, and the U.S.
government, his actions violated the Espionage Act of 1917, which identified the leak of
state secrets as an act of treason. Yet despite the fact that he broke the law, Snowden
argued that he had a moral obligation to act. He gave a justification for his
“whistleblowing” by stating that he had a duty “to inform the public as to that which is
done in their name and that which is done against them.” According to Snowden, the
government’s violation of privacy had to be exposed regardless of legality.
Many agreed with Snowden. Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project
defended his actions as ethical, arguing that he acted from a sense of public good.
Radack said, “Snowden may have violated a secrecy agreement, which is not a loyalty
oath but a contract, and a less important one than the social contract a democracy has
with its citizenry.” Others argued that even if he was legally culpable, he was not ethically
culpable because the law itself was unjust and unconstitutional.