Philosophers Interview Edward Snowden


John Perry and Ken Taylor (both Stanford), hosts of the radio program Philosophy Talk, interviewed former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, “the world’s most famous whistleblower” back in May. They just released a series of five video excerpts from the interview.

In one segment, Snowden describes the disillusionment that he and some of his colleagues experienced upon realizing that the NSA was collecting more information on American communications than Russian communications. At the same time, many other agents at the NSA seemed to regard constitutionally guaranteed rights (like privacy and due process) as justifiably suspended under some circumstances. These agents, says Snowden, tend to view themselves as “. . . good people, doing bad things, for good reasons.”

Snowden is pressed on questions regarding where his ethical obligations lay, to expose the agency’s practices. He strenuously justifies his decision to leak classified information to the press, rather than alert government officials to the wrongdoing.  “The system failed comprehensively”, claims Snowden; the classified nature of the shielding of the NSA’s programs from both congressional and judicial oversight left no hope for a neutral investigation into his allegations. 

In the absence of independent, apolitical bodies to which the would-be whistleblower might appeal, there is little chance, says Snowden, that those who are witness to governmental wrongdoing will risk the consequences of exposing such unlawful activity. Consequently, the lack of such independent bodies will continue to hinder government transparency.

Given the lack of protections for government whistleblowers, Snowden elected to work with the press to bring the NSA’s misconduct to light. He says his intention was not necessarily to bring an end to the NSA’s domestic surveillance practices, but instead to open public debate about such surveillance. By working with the media, Snowden says, he sought to emulate the checks-and-balances model integral to American government; the media would inform the public by publishing material they saw as most pertinent and appropriate, and the government would then have an opportunity to provide further clarity and justification for their programs.

Asked why he himself took such grave risks, he replies that “you have to have a greater commitment to justice, than you do a fear of the law.”

The above is from a press release courtesy of Dave Millar.

Here is the first of the videos:

The rest can be found here.

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