Guest Post by: Julie Posh, Aspiring Advertiser & Designer
Edward Snowden: traitor or patriot? It’s a question posed countless times since he leaked government documents in June 2013. But there’s another interesting question that’s asked less frequently: why was Snowden the first to share this information?
Of all the people that were a part of the National Security Agency (NSA), or Booz Allen Hamilton (the NSA contractor Snowden worked for) or other government agencies in the know, Edward Snowden was the first to blow the whistle.
Few citizens I hear disagree with Snowden’s actions. Many people believe he’s a hero. So why didn’t anyone else make the same move?
A compelling answer develops when we consider the case through Mays’ ethical frame of competing loyalties. There are four sources of loyalty in this frame: shared humanity, profession, employment and media in public life.
These competing loyalties are no doubt a huge factor in preventing people from leaking information like this. Sure, they know it’s “bad” or “unethical.” But they also feel a sense of loyalty to their job, their employers, even their own sense of professionalism.
Edward Snowden is a unique case. The sole reason Snowden sought out his job with the NSA contractor was to gather evidence of spying. This essentially negates the potential loyalties to profession or employer.
Everything Snowden did, he did out of loyalty to his fellow Americans. He said, “America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing.” He loves his country, just not his government.
As far as media goes, although Snowden was not a journalist, he certainly utilized the media’s role in public life to spread his message. Mays suggests that this type of loyalty often drives people to “serve as a mirror of society.” Snowden’s actions could certainly be seen as mirroring a truth that was as of yet unknown to the society he wished to protect. Once again, therefore, this loyalty to the media comes out of his loyalty to other people and does not compete against it.
Loyalty plays perhaps a greater role in our ethical decisions than we would care to admit. Of course we all like to think that we live by utilitarian ideals, doing what’s best for the greatest number of people. But what about our bosses? The jobs that put food on the table? Our friends or family? Loyalty can twist us in so many directions that eventually we become immobile.
Snowden was able to move because his loyalty was so clearly defined and unchallenged. Other potential informants were not so single-minded. Does that mean he did the right thing? There’s no objective answer we can give. But if you asked Snowden himself, he would label himself a patriot. Guaranteed.