June 17, 2013
Some have called Edward Snowden a hero, others believe he is a criminal.
Mr. Snowden is the 29 year old fugitive who, for reasons that are hard to comprehend, leaked to the UK daily The Guardian confidential information about two major U.S. government surveillance programs. He was working for Booz Hamilton who had a contractual relationship with the National Security Agency until he was fired for “for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.”
The fact that he broke the law is not contested by anyone.
Jeffrey Toobin the attorney, author and legal analyst for both CNN and the New Yorker, in his article “Edward Snowden Is No Hero,” published in this week’s New Yorker sums it quite well when he writes:
“The American government and its democracy are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air-and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. We all now have to hope that he’s right.”
One of the ethical issues here is a conflict of two legitimate values, privacy versus security.
There should be a healthy debate or tension in any democracy between those concepts. How much of our privacy are we willing to sacrifice for our safety?
We have to avoid going to either extreme.
If we decide to completely give up our privacy in order to be safe we may end up losing both our privacy and our safety. We will risk ending up with a “J” on our passports (should we be Jewish) or any other letter that would signify that, for ethnic or ideological reasons, we have become the “enemy of the State.”
On the other hand, we do not want to be the laughing stock of our enemies enabling them to take advantage of our civil liberties to hurt us and those we love.
We need to find a compromise that we can live with. That compromise can best be found in a healthy debate about the true and practical meaning of freedom, privacy and security in the society we have decided to live in.
However, in the search for that compromise, we should take heed to syndicated radio talk show host and author Dennis Praeger’s warning:
“Compromise, while at times morally necessary or at least justifiable, is more often only the first permission for a person (or society) to begin a long downhill descent.”