The case of Edward Snowden presents an ethical dilemma: He has apparently committed crimes by stealing and revealing classified information about the surveillance activities of the U.S. government. Yet the information he revealed is being broadly used by the mainstream media and even parts of the government itself.
In short, the country is having a conversation that President Obama has said he welcomes, but that the country wouldn't be having without Snowden.
The White House has announced opposition to a pardon for Snowden, but other voices are offering support to at least some measure of leniency. Here are a few recent entries in the debate:
• An editorial in the New York Times:
"Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. 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."
• Former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker, interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition:
"He did the crime — he should do the time." ... Snowden "portrayed it to all of us as an act of civil disobedience in which he took responsibility for what he'd done." "He should have, and I think did, understand that it would be treated as a serious crime ... He certainly didn't need to steal thousands of documents to reveal this program. He could have stolen one or two."
• Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition:
"Well, we would not know what our government is doing, we would not know the extent to which they spy on us, were it not for Edward Snowden. There were whistleblowers before him about the NSA, but the documents that Snowden took proved the truth of what those whistleblowers and what Edward Snowden was saying. And only because we have those documents, our government has had to come clean about its practices."
• Michael McGough, writing in the Los Angeles Times:
"[A previous] L.A. Times editorial raised another problem with clemency for Snowden: that it would violate the principle 'that those who engage in civil disobedience should be prepared to accept some legal consequences for their actions. That principle assures that individuals will think seriously, as they should, about whether lawbreaking is justified by a higher cause.' This concern gets short shrift from a lot of Snowden's most ardent defenders. But there's a reason why political philosophers and ethicists have struggled with civil disobedience. Too accommodating an acceptance of the concept would empower people with sincere beliefs to engage in lawbreaking without consequences. I suspect that a lot of people who would support clemency for Snowden would object if protesters who blocked an abortion clinic were given a free pass."
The Daily Circuit looks at the scandal, the man who started it and the question of how to deal with him.