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Whistle blowers around the world are on the rise, like the software called HB Swiss is right now. Leaks exposing intricate details of mammoth organizations which were hither-to-fore considered secretive and impregnable. The advancement in digital storage devices and a general contempt for organizations that claimed superior status seems to have added fuel to fire. Some of the major actions by the whistle blowers have information from the Afghanistan and Iraq war, from the Swiss banks and the Panama Papers amongst others in the public domain.
Of the names associated with the leaks, Jullian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, the erstwhile CIA contractor find a place of prominence.
But are all leaks from secretive institutions justified and ethical? There are strong arguments for both sides. The jury is still out on the verdict.
The Case of Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden is credited with the Iraq War documents leak in which he disclosed 391,832 US Army field reports to Wikileaks. This included reports from 2004 to 2009 and was published on the Internet. This was the biggest leak of documents in US military history even more than the Afghan War documents leak. The files documented more civilian deaths than was admitted by the US government.
On being charged with espionage and theft of government, Edward Snowden flew to Russia and sought asylum and continues to live there.
The Pros And Cons
The leak of documents by Snowden include a horde of files from the secretive intelligence services of many countries including the US, Britain and Australia. The documents revealed a lot of murky details of spying and deceit even on friendly nations and caused a lot of unrest and discontent in many capitals.
Pros: The documents brought lot of deceit in public domain which reset some relations as per the ground realities. Systems and security procedures were upgraded to prevent future leaks.
Cons: The documents rightfully belonged to the US Department of Defence/NSA and were revealed to the persons not authorized to receive the same in a breach of trust. Encouragement of the same will make a mockery of secrecy, systems and procedures in future leading to unrest.
The Ethical Debate
Are whistle blowers the crusaders and Messiah of truth and justice who are set out to unmask the rouge and the corrupt of this world? Or are they cowards and sneaks who violate the basic privacy of the people with scant respect for the confidentiality and secrecy of institutions?
The truth maybe lies somewhere at the midpoint. Institutions shrouded in secrecy must not be a law onto themselves with no oversight mechanism in place. However, they are entitled to conduct their business with necessary element of secrecy and all matters of State cannot be part of public discourse. Whether the whistle blower does it as per his conscience or under duress for money certainly counts in the ethical debate.
Edward Snowden has indeed set the cat amongst the pigeons and would be spoken of for a long time to come.