Whistleblowing as civil disobedience: The case of Edward Snowden

Philosophy and Social Criticism 40 (7):609-628 (2014)

Abstract

The media hoop-la about Edward Snowden has obscured a less flashy yet more vital – and philosophically relevant – part of the story, namely the moral and political seriousness with which he acted to make the hitherto covert scope and scale of NSA surveillance public knowledge. Here I argue that we should interpret Snowden’s actions as meeting most of the demanding tests outlined in sophisticated political thinking about civil disobedience. Like Thoreau, Gandhi, King and countless other grass-roots activists, Snowden has in fact articulated a powerful defense of why he was morally obligated to engage in politically motivated law-breaking. He has also undertaken impressive efforts to explain how his actions are distinguishable from ordinary criminality, and why they need not culminate in reckless lawlessness. In fact, his example can perhaps help us advance liberal and democratic ideas about civil disobedience. First, it highlights sound reasons why, pace the orthodox view, the acceptance of punishment by those engaging in civil disobedience should not be seen as a precondition of its legitimacy. Second, Snowden reminds us that ours is an era in which intensified globalization processes directly shape every feature of political existence. Defenders of civil disobedience need to update their reflections accordingly.

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Citations of this work

Civil Disobedience.Kimberley Brownlee & Candice Delmas - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Is Hacktivism the New Civil Disobedience?Candice Delmas - 2018 - Raisons Politiques 69 (1):63-81.
Civil Disobedience.Candice Delmas - 2016 - Philosophy Compass 11 (11):681-691.
Civil Disobedience, Costly Signals, and Leveraging Injustice.Ten-Herng Lai - 2020 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 7:1083-1108.

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