Edward Snowden: Criminal or whistleblower?

Newspapers call for Snowden to be treated as a whistleblower rather than a criminal

Edward Snowden photo via Wikipedia

If you were to compile a list of the most influential individuals of 2013, Edward Snowden would certainly make that list. His actions brought to light a host of concerns about data privacy and the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. But Snowden broke several laws in order to bring that information to the attention of the world, leading many to question his motives. 

The question remains, then, should Snowden be treated as a criminal or a whistleblower?

Some may see this as a question with a cut-and-dried answer, but others, like the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Guardian feel that the situation is more complex.

The Times feels that the value of the information gathered from Snowden’s actions outweighs the crimes he committed. The editorial board stated, “He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”

The Guardian echoed that sentiment, saying, “We hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr. Snowden to return to the US with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself.”

The act of whistleblowing has grown in prominence in the United States in light of the recent financial crisis. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice have encouraged individuals who suspect wrongdoing at their places of business to come forward with that information. These individuals are offered protection under the law, but are encouraged to do their whistleblowing through appropriate channels. Snowden did not do so, of course, but offering him clemency would show a commitment toward making change and encouraging Americans to stand up and speak out when they see something that is amiss.


For more news on the Snowden story, check out the following:

Tech giants make appeal to reform government surveillance tactics

Report indicates an increasing need for executive presence in cybersecurity realm

EU calls on U.S. to restore trust post-Snowden surveillance revelations

Cybersecurity: what should your legal department be prepared for?


Senior Editor and Community Manager

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Senior Editor and Community Manager of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance beats. Rich earned a B.A....

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