The Best Analysis of Edward Snowden and the Security State I’ve Read

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Photo of Ben O'Neill

Ben O’Neill

Ben O’Neill has published a series of articles on mises.org, seriously analyzing the ethics of the Edward Snowden revelations and NSA spying. What I really like about it is that, unlike what you’ll see in the mainstream media or even many liberty-oriented blogs, it seriously analyzes the issue: did Snowden have the ethical requirement to maintain confidentiality? O’Neill points out the fact that, by definition, whistle blowers have to break non-disclosure agreements that they’ve signed, and thereby break government laws. Thus, all whistle blowers are law breakers.

But in contract law, there are certain situations that make contracts invalid, such as when they are signed under duress. Another example is confidentiality agreements that require the signer to not disclose illegal activities. Clearly, the spying that the NSA has been involved in is not legal – it does not satisfy the requirements of the 4th Amendment. Therefore, any non-disclosure agreement Edward Snowden may have signed is invalid.

But most ordinary Americans who are against what Snowden did aren’t against him because of their desire to uphold the rule of law (except Aaron’s grandma). If they did, they ought to be much more concerned about the disregard for rule of law by the NSA. Rather, their main concern is the security state, and the idea that this spying is necessary to keep Americans safe. But O’Neill destroys this idea as well. NSA documents show that they use their surveillance apparatus for political ends. It certainly seems strange to fear rag-tag bands of terrorists from third world countries more than a multi-billion dollar secret agency that claims it can legitimately spy on your electronic communications without a warrant, and also possesses the ability to kidnap and assassinate people.

People often compare what’s happening in America to the environment in 1984. What I found most interesting about 1984 wasn’t the surveillance of the totalitarian state, so much as the concept of doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts at once. It seems that many Americans who consider themselves “patriots” will defend any government action in the name of “security,” even if it contradicts their supposed fidelity to American principles and the Constitution. A member of the Oath Keepers forwarded me this article, for goodness sake! What enables the security state, more than any data center, spying program, or weapon, is the consent of the majority of the governed. By freeing minds, more than by winning elections, we will free ourselves.

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