Snowden: Scourge or Saviour

On June 5th, 2013, The Guardian released a mind-blowingly large dossier containing documents revealing the NSA’s illegal and unconstitutional mass spying efforts (Gidda, M. 2013). These documents were handed over by Edward Snowden, a former employee of the CIA and former contractor for the US Government. During his years of IT work, Snowden noticed how far-reaching the NSA’s research was in terms of everyday surveillance. While employed by Booz Allen Hamilton as a contractor for the NSA he began to compile a collection of top-secret NSA documents, which outlined the extent to which they have been spying on the people of both the US and the rest of the world.

In May of 2013, Snowden told his NSA supervisor that he needed a leave of absence for medical reasons and flew to Hong Kong in order to meet with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, handing over tens of thousands of documents (Gidda, M. 2013). In the United States the leaking of top-secret documents carries with it very serious consequences, as Snowden would have surely known before undertaking this bold plan of action. Living in Hawaii with his girlfriend, with a highly successful career and family still living in the US, he stood to lose every aspect of the life he had built. How many among us could say, truthfully, that we would give up everything we have in order to do what is right and pursue a moral obligation? Sadly, I believe that only a scarce few could answer that question affirmatively. However, regardless of what we, as individuals, would actually do in such a situation, we need to consider the ethical implications that accompany such a quandary. Are there moral obligations to act when the law no longer reflects the morality of the society it governs? I believe there are and it would appear that this obligation is what compelled Snowden to undertake such a bold move and assume the role of whistleblower. While addressing Stanford University’s Cubberly Auditorium via web conference on May 15th 2015, he is quoted as having said, “When legality and morality begin to separate, we all have a moral obligation to do something about that”(Xu, V. 2015). The Internet has become an integral part of our lives; a place where we express our most personal interests, conduct our most intimate conversations and develop both our thoughts and relationships. This is certainly something that we need to protect.

At first glance it would seem like Edward Snowden is the real hero in this story; a brave whistleblower taking monumental risks to bring privacy and freedom to the world. However, when we dig a little deeper we find that the reality is not quite so black and white. The scope of the documents Snowden released to Greenwald and MacAskill went far further than simply revealing malpractice in the NSA’s operations (Gjelten, T. 2013). Investigations into the effects of Snowden’s action have suggested that terrorist groups modified their communication methods in response to the leaks, allowing them conduct their operations in greater secrecy than ever before. What is more, Jack Devine, the former director of CIA operations, and ex-KGB General Olig Kalugin, have both independently stated that they believe Snowden to be a controlled Russian espionage asset (Kelley, M. B. 2014).

With so many conflicting opinions it is highly unlikely that our generation will ever know the truth behind this complex tale. That isn’t to say, however, that there is not a lesson to be learned here. As with all of our previous posts we must recognise that any issues involving ethics will never be as simple as black and white. These deeply convoluted topics are some of the most pressing issues facing us today and it is our responsibility to gather as much unbiased knowledge as possible and consider all sides before passing judgement.

Until next time,



Xu, V. (2015) Edward Snowden talks ethics of whistleblowing. [online] The Stanford Daily. Available at:
[Accessed 18 Mar. 2016].

Gidda, M. (2013) Edward Snowden and the NSA files – timeline. [online] The Guardian. Available at:
[Accessed 18 Mar. 2016].


Gjelten, T. (2013) The Effects of The Snowden Leaks Aren’t What He Intended. [online] NPR: National Public Radio. Available at:
[Accessed 18 Mar. 2016].

Kelley, M. B. (2014) Two Top Cold War Spies Made The  Same Troubling Prediction About Edward Snowden. [online] Business Insider. Available at:
[Accessed 18 Mar. 2016]


One thought on “Snowden: Scourge or Saviour

  1. msissblog says:

    Currently, Apple vs. FBI stands as one of the most controversial digital security cases in our time. Addressing both ethics and morality. To summarise, it was a legal tussle between the tech giant, Apple, and the US government over an iPhone 5C that belonged to a terrorist, Syed Rizwan Farook. For more information about the background of this case click on this link:

    The above blog post is very interesting. It highlights two key issues can also be seen in the Apple vs. FBI case:
    In this blog we see that Snowden has stood up against the american government to protect the privacy of all american citizens. Once again in the Apple Vs FBI case, Apple took an opposing stance to a government body to protect the privacy of all their users.
    Snowden released confidential documents to the Russian government in order disclose malpractice in the NSA’s operations. However, by doing so he also revealed information that allowed terrorist groups to modify their communication methods and conduct their operations in greater secrecy. Equally, Apple fear that by creating a new operating system that would allow the FBI bypass the lockscreen of Farook ‘s iPhone, the privacy of all iPhone users would be at risk to terrorist activity. The new iOS that the FBI requested, is the equivalent of a master key, that could enable someone to access any iPhone in the world.

    “When legality and morality begin to separate, we all have a moral obligation to do something about that”
    -(Ned’s Declassified, 2015)

    Why did the FBI demand that Apple bypass the encryption of Farook’s iPhone?
    The FBI and the Department of Justice claimed that they had the safety of American citizens at heart. They believed that by having access to Farook’s iPhone contacts and browser history, they would be able to block future terrorist attacks.
    Terrorists are using increasingly sophisticated communications tools, such as encryption. To counteract this, the government must have access to their communications in order to prevent further tragedies and unnecessary deaths.
    The FBI demanded that Apple help them to bypass the encryption of Farook’s iPhone based on a law written in 1676. While this law was written 227 years ago, it is still a law. And allowing Apple to defy the US legislation, would have set a dangerous precedent, that technology giants are above the US government.
    (Hollister & Guglielmo, 2016)

    Why did Apple refuse to comply with the request?
    Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, believed that if the company made a “master key” for the iPhone, it would be an irresistible prize for hackers, and that its own servers would inevitably be hacked.
    Apple said the fight was about security and privacy for their customers, and about the US government trying to compel a public company to compromise its most important products. This would have tainted the public’s perception of Apple products, loosing Apple millions in revenue, particularly in China and Russia.
    Apple also believed the FBI had been waiting for the right opportunity to take them to court, and force the tech giant to give them access to their iPhone data. To Apple, it wasn’t about giving the authorities access to a single phone, it was about stopping this 227-year-old law from pressurizing technology companies into producing hacking tools and spyware for the government.
    (Apple, 2016)

    Today, the 29th of March 2016, the FBI found an alternative method of accessing the data from Farooks’ iPhone, with the help of a third party. This has ended the legal battle between Apple and the FBI in this particular case. However, this isn’t the last that time this issue will be brought to the public eye. Considering the significant tension that has developed between the US authorities and Apple, it is only a matter of time before security issues like this will be taken to court again (RTE, 2016). Like in Snowden’s case that Ned’s Declassified have addressed in the above blog, the overarching battle about privacy and security will prevail as a heated ethical debate.

    Lichtblau, E (2016). US justice department urges immediate action on Apple
    [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Mar.2016].

    Apple, (2016) .February 16, 2016A Message to Our Customers
    [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Mar.2016].

    Quane, H, (2016) Snowden: Scourge or Saviour Available at: [Accessed 29 Mar.2016].

    Hollister, S & Guglielmo, C, (2016) How an iPhone became the FBI’s public enemy No. 1 (FAQ) Available at: [Accessed 29 Mar.2016].

    RTE, (2016) US unlocks killer’s iPhone, drops legal action [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Mar.2016].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s