It has come across the news at some point. The news anchor shuffles their papers, looks at the camera, and delivers the scandalous news of yet another conspiracy that’s taken the world by storm. In this case, an average citizen has leaked information about a government or organization, exposing the industry’s secrets to the public. Most of the time, we’d be shocked that someone would defy standard policy like that. Most of us are also shocked by the groundbreaking information that was released. But who are these traitors/saviors who take it upon themselves to steal this information and do what they please with it?
They’re called whistleblowers. The term means “a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or incorrect within an organization that is either private or public”. These individuals are essentially exposing businesses or agencies who are holding secrets that the whistleblower believes should not be kept a secret. At first glance, it seems unethical. From a business standpoint, it is considered downright frustrating to have employees disobey your will. After all, the employer entrusts their employees with the company’s information and wellbeing. Despite the fact that the act of whistleblowing is detested by most companies, nearly all of them have policies that allow the employees to be protected if they blow their whistles, as long as the information isn’t knowingly false. However, there are special cases that bypass these guidelines. The bulk of these anomalies take place in government environments, where more scandalous, top-secret information is leaked.
Enter Edward Snowden, a now-ex-CIA worker. Snowden is one of these whistleblowers, and the work that he has put in to expose the US government has created massive waves of distrust across the world. In 2013, Snowden stole and leaked numerous documents from the CIA that exposed dozens of surveillance programs across the world. These programs were able to perform acts such as monitor phone calls and texts of US citizens and allow the NSA to spy on foreign countries and their leaders. The information released was astounding, and notified the world know that privacy was simply an illusion. If the US government wanted your information, which they apparently did, then they could get it.
But the real reason why this hit the world so hard was because of the dishonesty of the US Government. The government was breaking thousands of privacy laws per year and exceeded their authority knowingly. It was a large slap in the face for America, and the government quickly corrected its actions under the watchful eye of the Supreme Court.
But what does this mean for Snowden? Some would call his behavior treason for releasing information that was clearly never supposed to reach the public’s ears. Others would say that he is a true patriot for exposing the government’s invasion of privacy. Knowing that he would be penalized for his acts, Snowden fled America. He faces a sentence of up to three decades for his acts of espionage and theft. Currently, he is claiming temporary asylum in Russia, but has not been granted permanent asylum anywhere else, despite multiple requests. He has been marked as a criminal in every sense imaginable by the US Government, and will likely not be returning to the country where he was born for the rest of his life.
But Snowden hasn’t tucked his tail between his legs and cowered for protection while taking refuge in Russia. He is still extremely active in providing the public with information and his opinions, which have been taken to heart by many oppressed people around the world. He actively attends conventions for privacy and the rights of the people, over video call, and is seen as a voice of reason by many. You can see those opinions and his beliefs on Twitter at @Snowden.
Many people have vouched for Snowden’s return to the USA, including Green Party candidate Jill Stein, but there have been no developments on that front. Despite his current situation, he claims that he would do it all over again in a heartbeat. As he said in an interview with The Guardian, “I’m not an unhappy ending.” He encourages people to stand up for what they believe is right and not be daunted by their government, no matter how powerful it may seem. Snowden says that by leaking those secrets, he has been able to connect with many others and further spread his message with the reputation of someone who defied the law and lived. And that has given him more credibility than anything else could have.
Are whistleblowers good or evil? All in all, it boils down to the circumstances and their personal intentions. Snowden did what many would consider heroic, by seeing that something was terribly wrong and trying to correct it. However, some whistleblowers have darker intentions, and release information with the goal of creating mayhem and chaos. Personally, I believe in whistleblowers. The government is made to serve the people, and if they keep secrets because they think its best, then they’re doing the people a disservice.
Anderson is a contributor for The Millennial Times.