Last week, 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a tech specialist who was contracted for the NSA and works for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked the details of a classified surveillance program to the media. As Christians debate the ethics of Snowden’s actions we should consider the question, “Under what circumstances can there be biblically justified ‘leaking’ or whistleblowing?”
What does being a “good neighbor” or a “Good Samaritan” (ala Luke 10) mean, obligation-wise, when it comes to warning others against possible harm? If I have accurate and true knowledge about a situation that could result – or has already resulted in – public (or semi-public) harm, do I have an obligation to report it?
While the Bible doesn’t spell out the ethical obligations in these specific situations, the literature on justified whistleblowing tracks closely with another set of criteria many Christians apply to one specific intersection of ethics, “neighbor-love” (what Augustine called ‘caritas’) and public order: the just war tradition.
There are two distinct categories in the just war tradition – jus ad bellum (justice before war; or justice when initiating a war) and jus en bello (justice in war, or justice in the process of waging war) — both of which are applicable to questions of whistleblowing.