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Analyzing the Edward Snowden Case

The case in question proves far too complex or multi-faceted to suggest any sharp divide when it comes to ethical or legal profiling of major whistle-blowers. Whenever large players such as governments acting domestically or states operating globally opt for questionable means or practices, which can be replicated indefinitely without ever making it into lawful precedence, it might be awkward to expect the smaller players never to go to great lengths enforcing their own relative rights, let alone the lower-bound rights of those perceived to be their stakeholders at risk. In fact, this category of property right carriers could dominate that of principals, with conventional agency appearing a second-order dimension of ethical choice. This study aims at rationalizing the setup spawning major challenges as well as mitigating options to address utter threats.


Hired via an NSA contractor, Edward Snowden worked in the IT department that may or may not be seen as a major analytical hub. If one were to dwell on the value added at risk, as far as the personal versus agency stakes are concerned, it remains to be seen what it is that Snowden aired beyond whatever could have been conjectured or long known anyway. At the same time, allowing any data leaks to occur, no matter the perceived value or opportunity cost of the content, would have been seen as incentives incompatible from the standpoint of the representative, career driven type.
One might turn around at this point arguing an IT person never fully conforms to a hierarchy, or at least not to an extent rendering his or her career choice as a track set in stone. In other words, a material bit of opportunism irrespective of actual deviant propensity could be thought of as embedded in those feeling at home in a network type milieu. In fact, this need not imply an outgoing nature of any sort, with many IT ‘nerds’ staying so focused on their quest after solutions they might appear autarkic, little short of autistic. Berkhaut could loosely be invoked along similar lines when drawing a parallel between research anonymity versus the self-perceived acceptance statuses of IT and special-op personnel.
As one strand of generalizing the analysis, it could be of interest to see whether the ‘right to withdraw from contracts’ as in Ben-Shahar and Posner, which is reportedly oft-denied in common-law settings, could apply to bona-fide agency failure. In fact, the more recently advocated ‘right to be forgotten’ as the flipside of network presence, could be viewed as a special case. Somehow, Snowden did choose to defect on his corporate ties and bonds, or indeed his close professional circuit, which implies the otherwise high-payoff game may have come to appear downright vicious to him, for the continuation value to outmatch the exit cost—increasingly so. His first-hand account suggests that he had long been outraged at just how consistently the system would keep defecting on its own values and promises first. Although phone tapping and mail phishing practices had long been around, regardless of how utter a legal scrutiny any such moves are in actuality confined by, still the situation would keep deteriorating with the advent of technology acting, in the homeland security lingo, as a force multiplier on both ends. Weisberg has insisted that Snowden should at the very least not be condemned for exposing the agency’s weaknesses and excesses to its own ultimate stakeholders. Simcox countered this outlook in arguing that the revelations exposed the weaknesses to the abusers first and foremost.
Gillett’s point on the communication system being prone to transition as one way around end-game collapse could be read as the underpinning of the excesses making themselves manifest through sheer policy abuse. Just like would-be terrorists could recruit as well as preach at large throughout the emerging networks, the exact same venues may have been deployed in staging coups as well as eavesdropping on opposition and incumbents alike, in a centralized manner. Now, clearly far from all of the power or state and government branches may have been privy to all such designs or mechanisms, which would be less than conceivable with an eye on bounded rationality rather than technical constraints per se. However, it is this single most manifest case of major infringements on basic rights such as privacy as well as its potential reputational impacts that may have left few people out there unmoved, Snowden not least.

Legal Clash, Ethical Tradeoffs & Vulnerability Leverage

As an insider, Snowden could be seen as an unscrupulous agent indulging in power abuse—regardless of whether or not he has cashed in on the incident in terms of pecuniary rewards or fringe benefits. For that matter, power crave (if any) may be aligned against better self-actualization odds and havens, even if the new-born celebrity has seen his or her goodwill or ‘symbolic capital’ turning mixed.
Along similar lines, one may question Snowden’s abstinence from rent seeking, bearing in mind that he fled with his laptop all stuffed up. In fact, this issue could best be treated game-theoretically. For one thing, this may amount to a ‘cheap talk’ setup, with the whistle-blower challenged with the need to signal credible threats of uttering more stigmatizing revelations as a response to mounting threats to his or her life, health, career opportunities, perceived goodwill, or leeway. This part is largely proactive, albeit exhibiting some path dependence with respect to the strategy attempted from the outset. The reactive flipside pertains to willingness to step up whenever the rival (the incumbent regime or the government bodies) signals similar intentions or, worse yet, any resolve to have no scruple about the means.
It does not appear that state, or particular government officials for that matter, are always interested in ensuring justice—never mind the procedures or jurisdictional overlaps. The Snowden v. the US case may or may not be heard by the grand jury, yet a plea bargain is what has invariably emerged many a time as the ultimate solution that has very little to do with the legal or ethical merit of the suit in question and a lot with the relative bargaining power. While at it, Snowden may well plead nollo contendere in the interim over and above signaling his ethical commitment as well as patriotic stance in envisaging ‘a better America’; yet the mechanisms of democratic delegation have been blurred in their own right. In fact, he could further signal his patriotic zeal in just how deeply concerned he was with sheer breach of the US citizens’ privacy—but not with the tapping or cable leaks elsewhere.
In fact, Assange’s infamous heritage could be seen as the more binding constraint on the reasonable person’s expectations. One other implication that Snowden may have arrived at pertains to the pattern whereby plea bargains have largely been implicit lately. In Strauss-Kahn’s case, a reduced sentence may have been short-traded for a delayed career or suspended reputation, which contingency in any event hinges on hypocritical criteria beyond whatever is deemed genuinely unacceptable. Berlusconi may in turn have overspent his way trying to signal his Strauss-Kahn style ignorance of the plaintiff’s age or social status while simultaneously scrapping the rewards accruing to an anecdotal stamina. Apart from the possibility that many of these cases strike a balance of politics or agency versus fudge-factor rape charges, these have been dismissed on the strength of or beyond reasonable doubt. The reputational or morale loss plaguing justice at large, though, has to do with utter disregard for rulings that build on doctored evidence or fungible premises amidst the all-too-obvious burning agenda.
At this stage, many of those who like to think of themselves as patriots may argue that, whenever the ends count heavily, means are nearly irrelevant. Mostly, that applies to the geopolitical as well as homeland stakes. However, a straightforward thought experiment or folk introspection would lead one to expect the challenger to follow suit. Why would the outraged public or the network type communities, as supposedly represented by initiated whistleblowers like Snowden, want to back off in light of the state abuses and cronyism being likely to explode? For instance, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act targets the unscrupulous corporate nationals as well as expats as those ushering in negative externalities or reputational spillovers which act to damage other FDI and NGO players abroad. However, it does nothing to prevent staged social revolts from happening, or locally sourced operatives getting into office. As one possibility, the warp could be undone in a manner of backward induction, with whatever harmonizing or naturalizing legislation applying to weakened categories or third-country nationals likely to come in handy when treating soft insurgency or defecting potential.
This is not to deny merit to or rationale behind the oppressive machine when it comes to enforcing domestic as well as foreign equilibria on relative property rights. However, for laws to be binding and institutions efficient, the general public has to be motivated as well as educated as to the cause and liability trade-offs. Sheer hypocrisy may work part of the time, until after the attainments being targeted prove inferior or far too costly to stand up to sustainability check. In a sense, this works somewhat like the visionary versus mediocre type CEOs who may or may not get to inspire the team, yet clearly not in ways sterilizing the incentives or conveying less-than-credible commitment.
Any country is concerned with survival, while applying every effort to enforce the respective outcomes and curb adverse developments. However, a player claiming to set the rules as well as standards may stumble into excessive risks by the very nature of fostering survival as a matter of raising the ambitious hurdles. It is therefore awkward to dub as traitor anyone questioning the extent of the goals along with the risks involved. At that rate, the risk minimizer will about as plausibly emerge victorious as a patriot — more so whenever this latent or grand positive externality is secured alongside the direct and immediate objective of regaining the basic rights, privacy not least.
It remains to be seen whether a progressively vulnerable society, or one that is exposed to the technology leverage, inevitably converges to suppressive ways and means rather than to inclusive openness — much the way it is done in financial markets amidst major bubble bursts or downside contagion. It should come as no surprise that such trends looming large in the media domain appear right up the variety alley, with exploded variety boosting the search cost while putting a strain on preferences. Not only could suppression be damaging, its softer form such as a centralized information policy making process could prove sterile, according to Owen, Cooke, and Matthews — which begs a rethinking of the part special IT operatives play, in the first place. Bugs and Crusafon have seconded this prediction by arguing that, even an optimized or harmonized media policy would still be exposed to accountability tradeoffs.
After all, many protests overseas do appear to work akin to contagious mechanisms, and yet these outbreaks, otherwise adverse and unwarranted as far as the Middle Eastern and Eastern European incumbents were concerned, have been fervently upheld and backed from the outside. Some of the extreme cases, as could be hypothesized of the ex-branches of al-Qaeda and ISIS supposedly stemming from the right-wing Syrian opposition, point to downright absurd or obscene instances of policymaking that threatens homeland security rather than standing for it. No matter how far at odds with ‘hegemonic stability’ or in line with ‘controlled chaos,’ such short-term windfalls may over the long haul prove just that—power flukes that are too costly to fare on, given that coalitions as well as networks of support may tend to evolve with an eye on reputation damage or co-branding type spillovers.

Recommendations & Conclusion

The profiling of whistleblowers is no easy enterprise, given that even the more career obsessed types might not be easy to pin down, much less keep hooked, with an eye on their incentives structure. When it comes to risk and hazard mitigation, the social planner or the benevolent collective principal acting simultaneously as a complex agent will have to play as if it realized the trade-off between exogenous threats versus endogenously laden reputation contingencies as well as complemenarity.
On the one hand, it would be a myopic stance to formalize just any mavericks as deviant or delinquent profiles, with creative journalists and critical thinkers posited as would-be insurgents on the strength of challenge that reasoning poses to any conservative system. On the other hand, it would be nearly as futile to expect that such carriers of leverage can cooperate with the system toward utmost synergy most of the time.
No lab setups can possibly discern the actual as opposed to game-like structure of incentives to apply in extreme circumstances, among other things. One safe strategy, building on Nash equilibrium in enabling one to stay put irrespective of the other players likely response, could be about keeping the system predictably equitable and less cynical, if it is to motivate potential mavericks away from colluding or empathizing with radical opposition. Clearly, violation of the Espionage or Patriotic Acts cannot in and of itself garner sympathy with the general public so far as to outweigh a sustained compromising of core rights that moreover amount to some major facets of identity—even when contracted national safety or collective security is borne in mind. As per national interests at large, this aggregate can never be seen as reasonable in its entirety, much less whenever it challenges intellectual integrity beyond perceived reciprocity risks.

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