Was Snowden virtuous?

Journal article

Harfield, Clive. (2021). Was Snowden virtuous? Ethics and Information Technology. 23(3), pp. 373-383. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-021-09580-4
AuthorsHarfield, Clive

Professor Shannon Vallor’s theoretical framework of technomoral virtue ethics identifies character traits that can be cultivated to foster a future worth wanting in an environment of (mostly digital) emerging technologies. Such technologies and increased citizen participation in the new digital environment have reconfigured what is possible in policing and intelligence-gathering more quickly, perhaps, than sober and sensible policy reflection and formulation can keep pace with. Sensational and dramatic, seismic and devastating, the Snowden disclosures represent a particular expression of dissent against American intelligence community exploitation of emerging technologies in undertaking mass surveillance on a global scale. Responses to Snowden’s actions, and perceptions of the (dis)value of the disclosures he made, are polarized. Polar opposites equate to vices in the Aristotlean view that posits virtue as the middle way. Here, the theoretical framework of technomoral virtue ethics is used for objective evaluation of Snowden’s asserted motivations and documented actions against the benchmark of good cyber-citizenship that the framework describes. The fact that Snowden’s account is strongly disputed by the U.S. Government does not in and of itself invalidate a theoretical evaluation. It is not the probative value of Snowden’s account that is being tested, but how the narrative presented measures up to an ethical framework.

KeywordsEdward Snowden; emerging technology; mass surveillance; technomoral ethics; virtue ethics; whistleblower
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Journal citation23 (3), pp. 373-383
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-021-09580-4
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85099973086
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range373-383
Publisher's version
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online28 Jan 2021
Publication process dates
Accepted17 Jan 2021
Deposited02 Aug 2022
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