Secrecy and Privacy in the Aftermath of Edward Snowden

| February 2014
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Flickr / Thierry Ehrmann

Flickr / Thierry Ehrmann

Whatever else one might say concerning the legality, morality, and prudence of his actions, Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, is right about the notion of publicity and informed consent, which together constitute the hallmark of democratic public policy. In order to be morally justifiable, any strategy or policy involving the body politic must be one to which it would voluntarily assent when fully informed about it. This, in essence, was Snowden’s argument for leaking, in June 2013, the documents that revealed the massive NSA surveillance program:

So long as there’s broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there’s a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision. . . . However, programs that are implemented in secret, out of public oversight, lack that legitimacy, and that’s a problem. It also represents a dangerous normalization of “governing in the dark,” where decisions with enormous public impact occur without any public input.

What, however, is inherent in being fully informed when it comes to surveillance?

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Category: Essay, Issue 28.1

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