Thoughts on Edward Snowden

This last weekend was the ThoughtWorks North American awayday. Following the suicide earlier this year of Aaron Swartz, we had a theme around the role of the internet and the software profession to combat overreaching government and corporate power; featuring speeches by Birgitta Jonsdottir, Michael Ratner, and (by video link) Julian Assange. It was merely a happy coincidence that this weekend corresponded with successive leaks of troubling activities by government agencies under the Obama administration.

As I boarded the flight home, I read the news of Edward Snowden’s account of why he made these leaks, and furthermore, why he chose to publicly take responsibility for them. Based on the information I currently have, I am struck with admiration for the courage and thoughtfulness of Edward Snowden’s actions. The path of a whistleblower is not an easy route, because it rests on the difficult dilemma between breaking the trust of the community we work with and our responsibility to our wider community: our country and humanity as a whole. I have had mixed feelings about some of the whistleblowing against the US government in recent years, some cases I’ve admired, but in other cases I’ve felt that the secrets revealed have not measured up to the high standards required by breaking that smaller trust.

In Edward Snowden’s case, these secrets so far have met that high standard. I am concerned both by these actions of the US government and by the secrecy that’s obscured these actions - a secrecy that makes it impossible for we the people to debate the correctness of our representatives’ policies. I hope we the people will support a public servant who put his responsibility to us over the government that serves us.

Martin Fowler: 10 Jun 2013