The Age of the Whistleblower

Illustrations by GuerruntZ


Edward Snowden: Hero or Criminal?

On June 12, 2013, Edward Snowden, a United States citizen and contractor who worked for a private company hired by the National Security Administration (NSA), leaked to the press that the NSA was conducting a mass surveillance of phone and email records through Verizon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft .

Snowden knew about the surveillance because of his job, but it was classified, top-secret information, meaning he was not allowed to disclose it to the public. Nevertheless, Snowden leaked the information because he thought that the public had a right to know when they are being tracked or surveyed. Consequently, federal prosecutors formally charged Snowden with unauthorized communication of national defense information, willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person and theft of government property. He has left the country to seek asylum in Russia and a debate has begun in the United States, leading to a big controversy about whether what he did was heroic or criminal.


The NSA started the mass surveillance because it wanted to monitor terrorists and their communications. Still, many Americans think that they have gone too far in invading people’s privacy without their knowledge. They claim that Edward Snowden acted as a whistleblower and that the NSA violated the Fourth Amendment by collecting phone records from phone companies with top-secret court decisions. “It’s one thing to say that we want the government to have these capabilities. It’s another thing to allow this to be assembled without any public knowledge, without any public debate and with no real accountability,” said Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for the Guardian, the newspaper to which Snowden first supplied the classified information.

However, others believe that Snowden’s actions damaged U.S. intelligence efforts and security, and that with public knowledge of tracking, terrorists can find other ways to communicate. “What Snowden has revealed has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and our allies,” said General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA.

While many people are arguing about whether Snowden was right or wrong to leak the classified information, this case has created a huge debate about Americans’ right to privacy.

Additional research and writing by MOKGWETSI SIZWE CHAPMAN, age 15


The Case of U.S. Army Private Manning: What Does it Mean for Whistleblowers?

In 2010, Private Bradley Manning* shared more than 700,000 classified documents and videos about the U.S. Army with WikiLeaks, a website that publishes government secrets from whistleblowers. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the German newspaper Der Spiegel all published parts of the Wikileaks documents. Some of these documents and videos involved things Manning saw, heard about and found disturbing, such as a video of civilians (non-soldiers) being killed in Iraq by a U.S. war helicopter. Many of the other documents described day-to-day life in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Manning thought showed problems with the way the war was being run.

Manning was accused of “aiding the enemy.” The government said that the documents could potentially be seen by the United States’ enemies in the Middle East because they were on the internet. The punishment for aiding the enemy is life in prison. On July 31, 2013, a court decided that Manning was not guilty of aiding the enemy, but is guilty of 22 other crimes such as espionage.

Free-speech advocates worry that Manning’s punishment will discourage investigative journalists who are covering the army and the U.S. government from publishing stories that criticize the government. As for what the case means for Edward Snowden, some supporters worry that Snowden will be accused of the same espionage crimes as Manning. Others think the case is a good sign for Snowden.

“I think the Snowden disclosures raise much bigger questions about the role of leakers in our society,” said Mary-Rose Papandrea, a professor of law at Boston College, to NPR News. “His disclosures have had a big impact on the public debate. They are meaningful; they are important.” She said the Manning documents, on the other hand, “did not have significant impact on public discourse.”

Since the sentence was handed down, supporters of Manning have announced that they plan to work with Amnesty International to organize a petition requesting a pardon from President Obama.

*Editor’s Note: On August 21, 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison at Fort Leavenworth outside of Kansas City, KS. In a statement released the following day, Manning made an announcement to the public that she identifies as female and requested that the public and media refer to her using female pronouns and the name Chelsea E. Manning.


What Do You Know About the Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment to United States Constitution (created in 1787) was added as part of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights gives U.S. citizens protection against unreasonable search and seizure by police officers and government officials without a warrant (legal permission) from a judge.

Interesting Dates in the Life of the Fourth Amendment:

1791: The Fourth Amendment was introduced by James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. In the days before independence, the British government carried out general search warrants against the colonists. Madison wanted to prevent this from happening under the new American government.

1914: The Supreme Court case, Weeks v. United States, resulted in the creation of the exclusionary rule, meaning that evidence acquired illegally (without a warrant) cannot be used in a criminal trial.

1967: The ruling for the Supreme Court case, Katz v. United States, concluded that evidence acquired by electronically recording or listening to conversations without a warrant cannot be used in a criminal trial.

2001: Several weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, which expanded small exceptions to the Fourth Amendment to increase the government’s power to collect the private information of its citizens.

Glossary of terms

Leak: to reveal legally classified information, or information that is not allowed to be made public.

National Security Agency (NSA): the central producer and manager of signals intelligence for the United States. The NSA is primarily responsible for global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information.

Whistleblower: a person who informs an organization or the public about illegal activity.

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