ICT Assignment : The Case Of Edwardd Snowden From Ethical Perspective

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Question :


Write a report that addresses the ethical issues in the following case study:

Edward Snowden—an employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, working at the National Security Agency (NSA)—is responsible for what may turn out to be the most significant leak of classified information in U.S. history. In June 2013, Snowden admitted to passing classified documents to reporters at The Guardian and The Washington Post—revealing details of NSA surveillance programs that collect and perform data mining on hundreds of millions of U.S. phone and Internet traffic records to identify possible links to known terrorists. Shortly after leaking the documents, Snowden fled the country to avoid federal charges. Some people call Snowden a whistle-blower for drawing attention to NSA programs they feel violate civil rights and the Constitution. Others consider him a traitor and feel he should be heavily prosecuted. Please research this incident and write the report as indicated in this task.

Doing Ethics Technique – 

The 'Doing Ethics' technique is a process for analysing ethical issues in any scenario. It doesn't guarantee that what you come up with will be the best solution, but it does help you to think ethically. The technique may seem a little vague and perhaps lacking guidance, however the following might help you to understand how to apply the technique in order to better understand ethical analysis.

Q1. What's going on?

This is a synopsis of what the case is all about. It can be taken from a variety of perspectives, for example, from the perspective of a person raising a complaint, in which case, it is a synopsis of the complaint. It can be taken from the perspective of an involved observer, in which case, it is an outline of what was observed, without going into too much detail. Where you see multiple perspectives, you should describe them here.

Q2. What are the facts?

This is a descriptive list of the facts of the case. This doesn't just describe the case; it lists the facts as they are known (from all sources and perspectives), and also what one might reasonably consider to be possibilities. For example, if a person was raising a complaint, Question 1 would outline their complaint, and Question 2 would provide the evidence to both support and refute that argument. All such facts must be demonstrable or supportable. It would be worthwhile to assign a credibility weighting to each fact, to help with later analysis.

Q3. What are the issues?

This is a list of ALL the issues that are involved in the case. In Question 5 we can extract only the ethical issues for further analysis, but for now, simply extract and describe every relevant issue you can think of.

Q4. Who is affected?

This is a list of all the stakeholders involved in the case. This need not be restricted to the ones specifically mentioned in the case; you should consider who/what else might be affected by the issues listed at Question 3, regardless of the degree to which they are affected. In this question, you should describe how each stakeholder is affected, both positively and negatively, and perhaps comment on the degree of effect.

Q5. What are the ethical issues and implications?

For this question, you need to extract only the ethical issues identified at Question 3. List the ethical issues, discuss them in terms of classical ethical theory (as best you can), and discuss their implications - on the stakeholders and on the community in general.

Q6. What can be done about it?

This question elicits a general idea of what can be done to resolve the case, whether those ideas are practical, possible, or not. Generally what kind of resolutions might there be? You need not go into great detail to answer this question, as its purpose is to provide a basis for answering Question 7, but you do need to think broadly and laterally to come up with several alternatives.

Q7. What are the options?

This question requires that you list and describe (in detail) all the possible options that might be available to resolve the case. Be creative here; the most obvious options are not always the best. It's possible that not all options will result in a positive outcome for all stakeholders. List and describe at least three different options, and discuss the benefits and detriments of each.

Q8. Which option is best - and why?

In answering this question, you need to assess which of the options described in Question 7 is the best. You are recommending one of several options here, so you need to argue for your recommendation, providing a solid basis in fact and reasonable (and supportable) conjecture. You should add some of your own intellectual property, as an ICT professional, into answering this question. Supporting your argument based on classical ethical theory is not a requirement at this point, but it is what would be expected if you were a professional Ethicist.

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Answer :

Executive Summary

The legal nuances of the case of divulging top-secret documents of NSA’s state surveillance program has almost earned a mythical status. Snowden expected condemned for involving in an act of treason of state while characterizing the dilemma between being legal and being ethical. Thus, this study aspires the ethical evaluation of the moral aspects embedded in such acts while pondering over the ethical validity of a state-commissioned intrusion coupled with the surrender of privacy rights for private interest. It appear impossible to fathom the moral understanding of Edward Snowden that advocated him to be involved such act while heeding on the intricacy of the nuances of the case. 


Edward Snowden’s activities that has been a potent issue of several philosophical and ethical arguments revisits Foucault’s concept of Panopticon found in Discipline and Punish. Panopticon illustrates the society living under extreme government surveillance. After being tagged as the whistle blower Snowden several times expressed his concern regarding the world being directed towards increased government surveillance at the expense of individual privacy. As far as the NSA leaks are concerned there is a benefit of doubt regarding the fact that whether the NSA surveillance served public interest or private interest[1]. In the light of the case of leaking classified information by Edward Snowden, the current study attempts to seek answer whether the activities of the person subjected to the banishment were ethical or not. This essay attempts to reach towards a conclusive point by evaluating the case from an ethical perspective through the aid of Doing Ethics technique as well as evaluation of the situation from an ICT professional’s perspective. 

Analysis of the situation (Doing Ethics Technique)

  • What is going on?

Edward Snowden being a contractor of the National Security Agency was considered to be responsible for the most significant leak of the classified information of US history as in June 2013, he admitted himself that he passed classified documents to the reporters at the Guardian and The Washington Post that revealed several confidential details regarding the surveillance activities of NSA programs that was associated in mining hundreds of millions U.S phone and internet traffic records. NSA however, justified their program by stating that the traffic records had been collected in order to identify possible links of the known terrorist activities. NSA also accused Snowden to be responsible for aiding the terrorists to change their plans regarding their future activities that might danger the interest of U.S government.

  • What are the facts?

The important facts that need to be taken under consideration in this regard are stated below:

  1. Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the confidential documents of NSA brought forward the issue of violating the fundamental rights of the individuals of having privacy.
  2. Snowden’s disclosure of the security documents had immense effect on the Canadian Security law.
  3. As per the opinions of several U.S legal experts and the U.S Government his actions indicate at violating the Espionage Act of 1917[2].
  4. The act of informing the public that they are subjected to extreme government surveillance has been considered to be an act of treason. 
  5. Snowden is subjected of breaking the law as he provided the reporters with confidential documents of NSA.
  6. Snowden effectively justified himself for his act of Whistleblowing by stating that he had a duty to inform the public of government’s violation of their privacy as it is his moral duty beyond legality of the action.
  7. What are the issues?

This case brings forth several issues regarding public rights and interest for serving the greater good of the society. The major issues can be listed as follows:

  1. Can surrender of privacy rights be considered ethical for national security interests?
  2. Snowden leaked a slideshow that revealed economic espionage activities of CSEC against Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy [3] . It raised potent questions regarding the utility and legality of spying on countries without any prior notification to the government of the subsequent country [4] .
  3. It also questions the legislative parameters that guides CSEC activities to gather economic intelligence [5] .
  4. Can Snowden’s activities be considered as acting for a sense of public good and greater interest of the society [6] .
  5. It is important to consider that being an employee of Booze Allan Inc was it wrong for him to get hold of the classified information using Booze Allan’s system or not.
  6. As it is mentioned by Snowden it is important to evaluate should justice be prior to the legislation.
  7. It is also important to identify whether Snowden did moral justice to his employer or not.
  8. As he mentioned working for the public interest, it is significant to identify whether it is ethical for the government to keep the citizens under surveillance without their knowledge.
  9. Who is affected?

Using a Hedonic or Utilitarian calculus in order to asses the action of Edward Snowden the stakeholders that are affected can be listed as follows:

  1. Edward Snowden himself
  2. Terrorist groups within U.S and in other countries who are responsible for affecting the interest of U.S [7] 
  3. U.S military troops who are considered liable to combat vulnerable attacks as a result of disclosing the secret information.
  4. World citizens who are revealed to be subjected to extreme surveillance by U.S government

Using the Utilitarian calculus proposed by Jeremy Bentham it can be stated that Edward Snowden has a high score in favour of whistle blowing.

  • What are the ethical issues and implications?

From the issues that are listed above the ethical issues can be identified.

  1. Snowden violated an agreement of secrecy that is an employment contract in order to act for a sense of public good.
  2. From the Kantian perspective a perfect moral duty was violated by Snowden’s actions.
  3. From Kantian perspective it is also wrong what the U.S government was doing because Kantian perspective strongly oppose using the people as the means.
  4. It was not ethical for the government to keep the citizens under darkness regarding their private activities being recorded for the sake of national security.
  5. It can be considered to be unethical to surrender the privacy of rights of the citizens for national security reasons.
  6. What can be done about it?

It appears almost impossible to proclaim a definite resolution of the case since the essence of the acts and the vulnerable consequences seem to characterize the dilemma prevalent between being legal and being ethical. Since this NSA surveillance program evidently caters the cause of national security, the government can easily justify the legal wraths that Edward Snowden is expected to be subjected with under the opaque cloak of international affairs. Furthermore, the acts of Snowden can be depicted as gross violation of several articles of US Espionage act and Security of Information act coupled with the charge of deliberate compromise with national security [8] . On the other hand, from an introspective ethical perspective of Consequentialism, Snowden can be defended since the benefits that his acts promise prior to the public interest and their right to knowledge evidently outweigh the diplomatic and jurisdictive costs.   

  • What are the options?

As discussed prior to the dilemma between ethics and law tangible options for resolving the case are hard to define. However, it is important not to forget the subjective values of the individuals. In order to any dilemma between normative facts and ethical transitioning, the philosophers often use if-then statements. 

  1. In the light of Kant’s hypothetical imperative if most people of society tend to increase their living standards then it is difficult for the government to protect the private property rights [9] . In the context of government surveillance, it can be stated that if pricy is valued by the individuals then it is significant that any coercive form of government surveillance needs not to exist. Therefore, the attempt to stop surveillance from intervening individual privacy is right and it is important for government to stop interrupting to individual’s privacy.
  2. However, it is important to understand that NSA’s surveillance program was for the greater safety of the citizens in order to save them from possible terrorist activities [10] . In both cases greater good of public has been used as a veil in order to shift the attention from breaking the law. In regards to Snowden’s comments, it can be started that the social contract of democracy needs to be protected by the government in order to mitigate the privacy disruptions of the citizens without their prior consent.
  3. According to several legal experts Snowdon broke the law and his method of disclosure the metadata was illegal as he did not report it directly but seek aid of the reporters which is considered to be a treason against the government [11] . Therefore, it can be stated that the constitutional rights of the citizens need to be give prime importance over the security concerns of the public.
  4. As Snowden himself proposed it is important to change the government policies of surveillance as well as revise the policies regarding the protection of the whistle blowers in U.S.
  5. Which option is best and why?

In accordance with the Altruistic perspective it can be stated that there is no possible best resolution or option to solve any ethical dilemma due to its extreme subjective nature. However, considering the aftermath of whistleblowing it can be stated that the best option is not to keep the public under extreme surveillance by tracking their internet activities behind the façade of national security. As the fundamental and constitutional rights of the citizens, they are subjected to the rights to have knowledge of the government activities. Therefore, any metadata program or surveillance program needs to be under the knowledge of the citizens. In order to minimize the national security concerns, it is important for the government to strengthen the Anti-Terrorism legislations of the country and also strengthen the forces of the Intelligence Bureau to mitigate the security hazards of the nation prior to terrorist activities. Treason or national treachery can not be mitigated with the mode of extreme surveillance on the citizens. 

Analysis of the situation from an ICT professional’s perspective

It is important to analyse the activities of Edward Snowden from the perspective of an ICT professional that requires in depth knowledge of the ACS code of Ethics. As an employee of defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton working at the National Security Agency, he is subjected to follow the guidelines that are mentioned below:

  • The primacy of the public interest: As this particular code of ethics indicates it is the prime most duty of an ACS member to prioritize the public interest above any personal, sectional or business interest [12] .

Under this particular guideline Snowden’s activities can be justified as his personal interest was not related to the disclosure of the confidential information. On the contrary his interest was harmed to a great extent as he was exiled from his parent country. However, several legal experts have argued that his disclosure of the meta data program enhanced the possibility of terrorist attacks on the country as the surveillance program intend to stop any possible terrorist activities inside United States.

  • The enhancement of quality of life: This code aims to enhance the quality of life of those people who are affected by the activities of ACS members [13] .

in this regard, it can be stated that the moot objective of Snowden was to minimize the surveillance of state from the private life of the citizens. His concerned regarding the increasing government surveillance and state power affecting the way of citizen’s life are dominant in his remarks.

  • Honesty: The ACS members are guided to be honest in their representation of skills, competence and knowledge [14] .

Several social and legal experts have opined that Snowden has not been honest to his employer. He has used the system of the organization without the knowledge of the employer in order to disclose the confidential data of NSA to the reporters. Therefore, he has breached his employment contract. However, it can be stated that he prioritized his moral and ethical obligation over the tort of employer’s agreement. Therefore, he was honest to his service for the citizens in the process of enhancing their life.

  • Competence: The code of competence demands the ACS members to be competent and diligent to their stakeholders [15] .

In this case Snowden has not been diligent to all of his stakeholders that includes government as well [16] . However, as a matter of fact it can be stated that from ethical perspective he has been competent and diligent towards the public who are one of the most important stakeholders that ACS works for.

  • Professional development: The clause of professional development demands the efforts of the ACS members to enhance individual professional development and that of the co-workers [17] . However, Snowden’s case is not related to this clause in particular because it is primarily associated with his moral development and sense of ethics.
  • Professionalism: The clause of professionalism indicates that the members of the ACS enhances the integrity of the society that they are working for as well as respecting its other members [18] . 

Several critics have argued that Snowden has not been professional to his duties as an employee working at NSA [19] . According to the Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder Snowden’s rationale was not convincing enough [20] . Moreover, he further stated that Snowden is liable for harming the national security of USA and he needs to be accountable for his actions.

On the other hand, Jesselyn Radack of Government Accountability Project defended Snowden’s actions to be ethical as he further commented that breaching the contract or the agreement of employment is less important in this case as he acted in the interest of social contract of democracy [21] .

Therefore, with the evaluation of the ACS codes of conduct it can be stated that Snowdon performed the most important liability that he is subjected to which is to act in the interest of the public. This can also be justified with the Kantian philosophy of ethics that does not emphasize on the consequences of a right or wrong deed. Rather than it emphasizes on fulfilling the moral duty. According to Snowden he fulfilled his duty which he considered to be moral and ethical. 


In the light of the above two different perspectives from which Snowden’s actions are analysed and scrutinized from ethical point of view, it can be stated that the moral duties of an individual are extremely subjective and therefore, relative as well. It is not possible to categorize one’s ethics morality from the perspective of other and therefore, it is not possible to justify the actions of Snowden from a collective perspective. Evidently, the journalists were also perplexed regarding the morality of his actions. Several reporters have commented that although he has committed a crime but he has protected the fundamental and constitutional rights of the citizens. Apart from that, he chose to break the law being fully conscious about the adverse consequences on his personal interest [22] . The legal experts have commented that he needs to be prosecuted as he challenged government from keeping legitimate security data safe from the enemies of the state. But whether the privacy of the citizens are to be intervened for the sake of national security remains the moot question of the issue. Government’s façade of keeping America safe is not a sustainable veil for extreme State Surveillance which Althusser remarked to be threatening to the social contract of democracy.