Edward Snowden, National Security Whistleblowing, and Civil Disobedience
Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy (Kaeten Mistry & Hannah Gurman eds.)
11 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2019 Last revised: 16 Jul 2020
Date Written: 2020
No recent whistleblower has been more lionized or vilified than Edward Snowden. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and denounced as a "total traitor" deserving of the death penalty. In these debates, Snowden's defenders tend to portray him as a civil disobedient. Yet for a range of reasons, Snowden's situation does not map neatly onto traditional theories of civil disobedience. The same holds true for most cases of national security whistleblowing.
The contradictory and confused responses that these cases provoke, this essay suggests, are not just the product of polarized politics or insufficient information. Rather, they reflect the genuine difficulties of locating national security whistleblowers within our main ethical framework for assessing conscientious and communicative lawbreaking. Just as the chapters in this volume urge us to move beyond the reductive characterization of whistleblowers as heroes or traitors, we may need to move beyond the standard models of civil disobedience to gain greater normative purchase on what whistleblowers do.
Keywords: civil disobedience theory, national security whistleblowing, NSA, Snowden, Rawls, King, Arendt, Walzer
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