Computer Ethics: Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden is an American computer specialist who worked for the CIA and the NSA and leaked details of several top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.  Snowden was an IT contractor who specialized in computer security.  His experience included stints as an “ethical hacker.”

Snowden became aware of the U.S. government’s espionage activities targeted at  Snowden explained his motive for the leak in an interview to the Washington Post, “It was more of a slow realization that presidents could openly lie to secure the office and then break public promises without consequence.” [1]

The revelation of the government’s clandestine efforts at cell phone and internet data gathering induces one of three reactions in most people: You’re appalled that all this spying is going on because your Fourth-Amendment rights have been grievously violated; you’re not really concerned, because lost privacy is the price of security; or you’re perplexed but not threatened, wondering how this could have happened and what it means in the evolution of the democratic state.

Read the below commentary from the Washington Times [2] and answer the questions below.

Rights are admissions of powers or power assumed or granted to a person or persons. We might believe they’re God-given, granted by governments, won in war or by persistent protest, or a combination of these. In the United States, the rights guaranteed in our Constitution are assumed to be God-given because the state has no authority to take them away. The Declaration of Independence says these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Privacy is accepted as one of the rights of American citizens, even though it is not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The Supreme Court and other courts and laws have defined these privacy rights, establishing them firmly as a feature of constitutional law. Edward Snowden obviously felt an obligation to inform the people of the United States and the world that these rights were being trampled by the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of data, much of it believed by most of us to be private.

Do the demands of security and the need to know about feared terrorist threats supersede our expectation of telecommunications privacy? What does this mean for your right to privacy?

What Snowden did was either patriotism or treason. Ethically, Snowden’s actions were either self-righteous self-aggrandizement, or it is a justifiable effort to stop an egregious wrong. Either he has exercised the highest principle of good in self-sacrifice, or he has been a selfish fool.

Snowden seems to have been motivated by the assumption that what NSA was doing was against the law. The government seems to have been working for some time to ensure what NSA and other agencies were doing was legal. Executive orders in the Bush and Obama administrations as well as adoption of laws by Congress in the last few years have expanded the government’s powers and addressed some of the questions raised by Snowden.

Were Snowden’s actions legal?   Were they ethical?

About Jack Myers

Married for over 20 years and proud father of a daughter and two sons in college. Extended family includes 5 bro/sis in-laws, 21 nieces/ nephews (and their children), 2 dogs, a cat and a snake. Currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Computer Science at Rowan University and serving as an instructor for Camden County College and elsewhere. Formerly led Pfizer’s BT Engagement Partner team and other technology teams at Wyeth, SmithKline Beckman and Centocor including Project Management, Portfolio Management, Identity Management, IT Security, Global Architecture and application development teams focusing on Information Management, Clinical Data Management, Regulatory Submissions and Processes, and Patient Safety.


Computer Ethics: Edward Snowden — 28 Comments

  1. Some people believe ignorance is bliss. Snowden did nothing to quell my voracious imagination and overly paranoid thoughts about government serveillance. It’s incredibly unnerving.

  2. Although what Snowden did was illegal and wrong in some sense, ethically he was very brave. Many people have been privileged enough to know that the government was invading the privacy of American citizens, but Snowden was the only one brave enough to actually come out with the information. Yes, the already paranoid are growing more and more apprehensive about government, but at least now we know a little of what is going on in Washington.

  3. What Snowden did is in a sense illegal but justifiable in my book. He took a risk and spoke out about what Americans already had suspicions of. Concluding that it was obviously a serious issue for him to feel the need to act upon for the right of Americans. Giving us some slight acumen and assurance of whats actually occurring.

  4. Snowden had a tough decision to make and honestly I think either way he could have been criticized for his decision. Having told America what was going on in the government he faces the criticism of having revealed important top secret information. However, say he hadn’t revealed the information. If sometime in the future it was leaked another way and it became known that he kept this from the country, would he not be criticized for failing to inform everyone by the people who find this a major violation of their right to privacy? With either option Snowden was taking a risk and he ended up choosing to do what he thought was right.

  5. I have to say what he did is wrong and it’s hurting America. People are getting hurt. He is doing the opposite thing of being good. Now bad.

  6. To quote rapper Lil Wayne, “real g’s move silent like lasagna…”, I find this line from the song “6foot 7foot” fitting for the CIA and NSA, in which they both move very discreetly and we as a society rarely pay attention to them. The only time we seem to care about our personal privacy is when it involves surveillance of what we do online. Snowden in my opinion, did what he did out of spite. Here he is a “ethical hacker” and he found out the hard way that even people who work for the CIA and NSA get spyed on.

  7. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and provide new Guards for their future security.”
    11th line 2nd paragraph US Declaration of Independence

    The only thing unethical about what Mr. Snowden did was selling information to other countries. What the above quote means is those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action. May Americans had suspicion of theses acts but Snowden brought proof. Probably in the wrong way though.Tough spot to be in, in my opinion

  8. I’ve known about people knowing what websites I go on for awhile now. If people really reacted towards as if they had no idea that the NSA was spying on us, they are surely in the dark.

  9. Snowden knew what he was doing was wrong. I commend him though for being brave and doing what no man would. The government is very sneaky and you never know the truth with them so I commend him for his bravery.

  10. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Marone (above). Who watches the Watchmen? In life, ESPECIALLY in politics, “All men have something to hide. The brighter the picture, the darker the negative.” In my opinion, there are three compasses that guide us. Law, Ethics and Morals. Mr. Snowden, indeed, had a moral obligation… a duty, if you will, to bring to light the actions that our goverment had been doing in darkness. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes of all time, “People should not be afraid of thier government, Government should be afraid of it’s people.” – V.

  11. I’m glad with what Edward Snowden did. I feel revealing to the American people that our government is spying on us is something that we the people should have been made aware of. I do, however, feel that the acts our government is committing are necessary for our own safety. It was just unnecessary to keep the spying a secret, and it is unfortunate that Snowden had to sacrifice his own citizenship for speaking the truth.

  12. I seriously wonder if Mr. Snowden considered how his revelation would affect U.S. relations with allied nations. I also wonder if their was any sens of self righteousness in his decision making? It is hard to believe that at his organization level, he would truly understand the reasoning for the U.S. to carry out these spying operations. One thing for sure is that he was made privy to sensitive information because he signed non-disclosure agreements and had presented himself as a trustworthy employee who could follow direction and use his access to information o execute a mission he was paid to do. He certainly did not fulfill his contract with our government. Although it is popular to say he was fulfilling a moral contract to U.S. citizens, I wonder if ramifications might include our governments inability to protect us from foreign attacks in the future. (I speak about this coming from 8+ years of experience with military Top-Secret classified material, I would recommend Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” in order to begin to understand the importance of spies and information gathering strategies in finding success in any organization.)

  13. I think its good that the truth is out there but at the same time its like ‘who cares’? What I mean is that people have been saying that our government spies on us over and over. Why not always have that thought “of course their spying its what they do.” This mite be a jaded view from watching to many spy movies when I was young, but I don’t really have an opinion on the matter. Do I think what Snowden did was wrong, no not really as long as there was a morally good reason. But if I find out he did it for money or was a spy himself then I say put him in jail.

  14. “is reporting a crime, a crime?” if that’s the case then every citizen out there will be hesitant to report any sort of illegal acts with fear of being prosecuted first.

  15. I don’t believe that Snowden released the information for personal gain but I also think he was wrong in doing so. I’m sure the government has many secretes that are designed for security purposes and would be useless if the entire world knew what we were doing.

  16. I agree with what Edward Snowden did , because he told us, American citizens what was going on behind our backs and something the President should have told us but didn’t. Yes he did break a confidential agreement but he doesn’t deserve to be the most wanted man, and get life in prison.

  17. I do not think anyone should be alarmed by the idea that they are under surveillance. Their are just so many cameras that the average American is said to be on camera for about 200 time a day and the average Londoner is said to be on camera about 300 times a day. I wouldn’t disclose such information to the press if I were to be in Snowden’s position. If people are under surveillance from private financial or technological companies, I think it would be decent for to government to oversee such data. Although it’s an infringement to people, I don’t think the law abiding people really have much to be worried about because many would be scared of committing acts of terrorism just because they know they are being watched. I think people just need to make sure that the right people are placed in places of authorities. I think Snowden’s actions was not legal, but it could be ethical depending on how one looks at the situation. I think Snowden just could not psychologically control what he saw, but once again, if morally ethical people are working in such sensitive positions, then Snowden would not see a cause to raise alarm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>