Edward Snowden And The Morality Of Whistle Blowing

In today’s society, ethical and moral issues and concern arise in almost every aspect of an individual’s life. From the home to the community, the school and even the work place; we are frequently faced with situations in which we must decide what we believe is the ethical choice to make. One such situation is that of whistle blowing.

According to Collins English Dictionary, “whistleblowing is the act of telling the authorities or the public that the organization you are working for is doing something immoral or illegal.” It occurs when an employee, present or former, discloses information concerning wrongdoings of either another employee or the company themself.  In layman’s terms, whistleblowing can be compared to the concept of “snitching” on someone. Whistleblowing is usually the outcome of an employee witnessing first hand, the wrongdoing of the violator.

This employee is usually known as the whistle blower. “A whistleblower is a person who comes forward and shares his/her knowledge on any wrongdoing which he/she thinks is happening in the whole organization or in a specific department.” The whistleblower, although probably disfavoured by many other employees and even employers, usually has sound ethical intentions for their actions. In fact, it should be encouraged by companies for their employees to be open, transparent and willing to speak up about what is right and just. However, whistle blowers tend to be viewed as harsh or complaintive and are usually looked down upon by the employee or organization they are jeopardizing. In Trinidad 2015, there was actually a Whistle Blower Protection Bill. This was an act created to combat corruption and other wrongdoings by encouraging and facilitating disclosures of improper conduct in the public and private sector and to protect persons making those disclosures from detrimental action.

It is unfortunate however that laws and policies needs to be put into place to protect whistle blowers. Whistle blowers only disclose information about activities that could be disadvantageous or cause disruptions, failure or loss to an organization. Thus, whistle blowers do not cause harm but in fact by taking a stand against wrongfulness, they protect the future.

On the other hand, while they may not cause harm, there will inevitably be consequences of actions and depending on the severity of the issue, the organization can be closed down, employees may lose their jobs or businesses may lose customers and therefore revenue. While some may think that whistleblowing is a sign of organizational failure, it is more a sign of ethical failure within the organization. Because of those who chose to be unethical, the act of whistleblowing arises. Disclosure of such activities lead to the consequences that can eventually in the long run cause organizational failure.

However, this is solely based on the wrongful actions of the violator and not the whistle blower. The whistle blower is simply carrying out his moral duty. As employers and employers, your aim should always be to fulfill your moral duties instead of condoning what is wrong. According to the Kant theory, the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences but on whether they fulfill our duty. The majority of times persons are overly concerned about the consequences of standing up for what is right because they are fearful of the consequences that may occur. However, informing the appropriate authorities of wrongfulness when it transpires is a moral duty that we should all fulfill.

One of the most popular cases of whistle blowing is that of Edward Snowden’s leak of classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013. Snowden was the twenty nine year old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history. Snowden worked at the National Security Agency for four years as an employee of various outside contractors. He was responsible for leaking to the media details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence from one of the world's most secretive organizations – the NSA.

This case has generated several different opinions on weather Snowden’s actions could be justified or not. Thus it is important to investigate all aspects of the situation, both the damages and the benefits in order to form an impartial conclusion. Snowden firstly caused harm upon himself. He is now known as a fugitive and has to be forced to create a new secretive life. From disconnecting phone lines to covering his head and devices while typing in passwords, Snowden inevitably caused harm to himself. Snowden also caused harm to the NAS and the American intelligence as well as other US security. It was also alleged that Snowden handed over secrets that protected American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states.

Despite of these damages, Snowden’s actions was also beneficial. He was responsible for informing the public as to that which was done in their name and that which is done against them. The US citizens were made aware that their phone calls and other internet activities were being listened to, viewed and recorded without their knowledge. They were being spied upon unknowingly and because of Snowden’s leaks, they were now aware of this act. Another benefit of this case was the increase in awareness of security and privacy. The case caused people to start talking about the issue and they now had the power to decide for themselves whether they were willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state. Also, many companies have made changes to start fighting for user privacy rights.

Taking these factors into consideration, I believe that Snowden’s actions were ethically justified even though it was legally prohibited. The laws of a nation never takes into consideration ethics and morals. However, in an interview Snowden stated that “we must make a distinction that right and wrong is a very different standard than legal and illegal” He claimed that he would not have done it if he didn’t believe it was right. Personally, I share the same sentiments as Snowden. Ethics deals with standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Thus, despite the legalities, the NSA was wrongful and unethical thus Snowden’s actions were ethically justified.

However, it takes a bold and courageous person to act on such standards because of the consequences and risks. Snowden was not afraid to leak the documents because he believed he was doing the right thing and thus, he was not concerned about the legalities. If I was in Snowden’s position however, honestly, I would not be as brave to disclose such information just because of the repercussions. While I share his opinion of the act being wrongful, the legal aspect of the situation could destroy a person’s entire reputation. This is why Snowden’s choice to be moral and ethical rather than follow the immorality of the law is commendable.

A quote by Ayn Rand says “Morality is the judgement to distinguish right and wrong, vision to see the truth, and courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price.”


  • Edward Snowden: Leaks that exposed US spy programme. (2014, January 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-23123964
  • Gellman, B., Blake, A., & Miller, G. (2013, June 09). Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/intelligence-leaders-push-back-on-leakers-media/2013/06/09/fff80160-d122-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f14d8ba62736
  • MacAskill, E. (2013, June 12). Edward Snowden: How the spy story of the age leaked out. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/11/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-profile
16 December 2021
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