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The Case of Edward Snowden and His Personal Integrity

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Edward Snowden, born in 1983 North Carolina, was a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor. He worked for both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NSA. At the time of his departure from Hawaii in 2013 he was a Systems Analyst with Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor. It was May 2013 that Snowden travelled to Hong Kong with the intention to leak sensitive information and documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post. The information revealed contained highly classified NSA initiatives and activities being used continuously to collect and review personal communications both inside and outside of the United States. His identity, on his request, was made public by The Guardian on June 9th that same year. He was seeking political asylum in Hong Kong but was eventually granted temporary asylum by Russia on 1 August 2013. Currently, at the time of this case study he is at an undisclosed secure location.

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Personal integrity is to be true to oneself and to do nothing that would dishonour you. To take it further, it means to have profound moral principles and moral uprightness. Personal integrity was in the heart of Snowden’s decision making. He acted based on his perceived social responsibilities and based on his personal values. This sparked many arguments whether what he did was fundamentally a reckless act that has endangered America or fundamentally an act of heroism that is for the long term good of America and perhaps the world. Personal integrity would entail him to think about how he would perceive himself as a person, what his principles are and if he could live with this decision reported in the media. His intentions were not for the NSA to stop what they do but to inform the general public of what has been done in their name and the extent to which this has been done.

Personal integrity triumphs over professional integrity in this case because it gives power to the larger public by allowing them to evaluate the actions of a highly shielded agency which would not have come to light if it had not been for Snowden.

Snowden acted as a whistleblower to expose excessive government surveillance of the American people an act that he believes violates the fundamental rights to privacy. He did this by forgoing anonymity and reasoning that he had no intention of hiding. The word excessive here is pertinent given that NSA’s surveillance should solely be for the sake of national security. However, the monitoring was not limited to actual threats and the NSA did not seem to have taken efforts in making their monitoring less intrusive, they completely ignored due process by not disclosing to Congress the extent of their surveillance activities. The need for surveillance was loosely veiled by the threat of terrorism. Terrorism provokes an emotional response that allows people to rationalize authorizing breach of privacy or excessive surveillance. Snowden acted upon NSA’s practice by identifying the end that is affected by it, majority being the common people of America. He acted based on his perceived social responsibilities and based on his personal values. Edward Snowden was a representation of that generation that was brought up with the internet being an integral part of their lives, he then became profoundly offended almost at visceral level when he realised that the internet was being harmed. His intentions were not for the NSA to stop what they do but to inform the general public of what has been done in their name and the extent to which this has been done.

Five years on its 2018 and looking at what are the impacts Snowden’s whistle blowing has change the world, or did it? There was no impact on American Politics or its Surveillance Laws. The laws governing surveillance are far too complex to begin with. It made some impact on public opinion but it didn’t cause a major shift. The changes that were seen however was in Silicon Valley. The impact there was more profound and lasting. Social media and tech companies stood to lose billions as the public was losing trust in them. The likes of Google and Facebook took various measures to encrypt and protect user data at the anger of Government authorities. In 2016, Apple declined to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to access an iPhone that belonged to a party of the San Bernardino massacre. Had not been for Snowden’s act, it is very unlikely that Apple would have made such a stand. Apple also fought to stand by its decision in court.

Upon forgoing anonymity Edward was on the run from the United States as charges upon him started manifesting. From Hong Kong where he first disclosed secret documents and then to Russia. His American passport was cancelled when he reached Moscow where he was restricted to the airport for over a month. Upon which the Russian Government granted him asylum for one year. Edward still remains in the public eye, as strong advocate for government transparency and freedom rights. He also earns from speaking fees where he appears before crowds through live streaming. Edward is now reported to be in a secure location somewhere in Moscow and continues to seek asylum from other nations as Russia refuse to grant him a permanent one.

The residing United States Government were quick to condemn Snowden a traitor and that his conduct was the ultimate act of treason. The Attorney General found his act to have broken the law and he is considered a criminal by law. Dick Cheney former Vice President of the United States from 2001 to 2009, said this was the worst act of betrayal in American history. Booz Allen Hamilton’s quick reaction was to terminate Snowden June 10 but this did not absolve the former employer in any way. The stock value too a plunge due to Snowden.

China’s response was very cautious and subdued given that they were the biggest victims of hacking attacks. They were reluctant to jeopardize the improved ties with the US. Ed Snowden’s act does not split along the traditional political lines of left versus right wing or pro-government versus libertarian. Personal integrity was in the heart of Snowden’s decision making he is a traitor to some and a hero to others as a whistleblower depending on who the stake holders serve.

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