The Triumph of Fear: Connecting the Dots About Whistleblowers and Surveillance

The Triumph of Fear: Connecting the Dots About Whistleblowers and Surveillance

David L. Altheide (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7113-1.ch086
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Edward Snowden was castigated by government officials and mainstream mass media as a traitor, spy, and international criminal when he released information about the National Security Agency (NSA) secret and massive surveillance of virtually all U.S. electronic communication. More than “wiretapping” is involved in the spin being put on Snowden's revelations. A lot of institutional duplicity has been revealed. The reaction of United States officials can be seen as a dramatic performance to demonstrate their moral resolve and complete power (even as Snowden challenged it) in order to dissuade other whistleblowers from following suite, as well as maintain authority and a discourse of fear about terrorism that justifies surveillance and other forms of social control.
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Preliminary Discussion

The fate of Mr. Snowden and other creative whistle-blowers (e.g., Daniel Ellsberg) can challenge the communicative orthodoxy by understanding the nature of digital information technology. Twisting in the political winds is the meaning and status of whistleblowing, or informing others (usually those outside an organization) of untoward and usually illegal and harmful activities. Numerous federal agencies(e.g., Security and Exchange Commission (SEC),Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),) support coming forward when illegal and questionable activity is observed, and President Obama signed the 2012 Whistleblower Enhancement Protection Act. Still, the tension between “doing the right thing” and “upsetting the apple cart” is growing, such that some people have argued there is actually a “war on whistleblowers.”

Within a matter of hours official governmental news sources and media servants dispelled the notion that Edward Snowden was a “whistleblower,” who was interested, as he claimed, in informing the American public about the unprecedented secret surveillance. Indeed, unlike revelations by WikiLeaks, he claimed to be cautious in what he revealed in order to not “hurt people.”Government surveillance agencies (e.g., NSA, CIA, FBI) joined the chorus that national security and the safety of Americans from terrorist attacks had been compromised, and that now our enemies could take steps to avoid being surveilled. The “metadata” being collected from the internet via project PRISM was said to be essential in order to “connect the dots,” an ambiguous metaphor—of dubious validity-- suggesting that total information would provide a complete picture of terrorists’ plans.

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