Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is Snowden a whistleblower?

Here at the Center, we often talk about what it takes to be a whistleblower and what kinds of protections whistleblowers should have from retribution after they report wrongdoing. While waiting out this latest chilly spell of weather, I spent a lot of time listening to NPR and heard an interesting exchange on Morning Edition about if Edward Snowden and what his status should be. Is he a criminal for leaking classified documents? Is he a whistleblower and a hero for helping make the public aware of the extent to which our government is spying on its citizens?Or is he something in between?

On January 1st the New York Times published an editorial called Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower that argues that Snowden deserves far better than a life in exile, as his leaked documents have led to public revelations about the National Security Association's collecting of of millions of phone calls, email messages and and other information. As Congress scrutinizes these practices and the Obama administration  and it does seem that this might be one of those classic cases of whistleblowing. Snowden's leaks at least partially led to the forming of a  panel convened by President Obama to review the National Security Agency's current policies. In December, the panel put out a number of recommendations, including that the NSA should be banned from attempting to undermine the security of the internet and from collecting telephone records in bulk. So Snowden's leaks have lead to a number of reforms already in this area.

However, Fred Kaplan of Slate Magazine wrote an interesting piece a few days ago about why he thinks Snowden should not get clemency.  While aplauding the public debate raised by Snowden's actions, Kaplan condemns his leaking of information that deals with the NSA's international surveillance programs, as well as his the way in which he gained access to these documents by lying to his colleagues.

So what do you think? Should we view Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower who deserves some leniency when considering how he gained access to and leaked these classified documents to the world? Or does his actions place him outside of the definition of whistleblower?

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