The Ethics of State Secrets: Snowden, Wikileaks, and the Need for Secrets?
Intelligence is an inherently secretive affair. The intelligence community often argues that in order to successfully maintain security they need their tactics, targets and personnel to be kept out of the public eye. However, the WikiLeaks affair in 2010 and then the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed surveillance programs of such unprecedented size and scope that they raised important questions regarding the type of activities people are happy to have carried out in their name. Importantly, however, they also highlight the tension that has developed between democratic principles such as transparency and accountability and the need to keep secrets in order to maintain security. It is unclear is how secretive the intelligence community should be and what ethical position whistle-blowers should hold in society. I argue that first we must understand the affect keeping secrets can have on society with the potential for eroding social cohesion and the fear of secret human rights violations. This can then be set against the good that the intelligence community can bring in terms of detecting, preventing and even predicting threats against the political community. By balancing these two concerns this paper will develop an ethical framework designed to guide if, when and by what means states can keep secrets.
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