Abstract: The Ethics of Whistleblowing

In this paper I outline a critical justification of the practice of political whistleblowing as exemplified by the case of Edward Snowden. At first, I argue that the question of justifiability cannot be settled with regard to absolutely binding principles such as special loyalties or the categorical duty to inform fellow citizens. What is required instead is the careful weighing of all relevant consequential and deontic reasons. However, this weighing process has to be publically justified. I will therefore turn to the theory of civil disobedience which provides us with two roots of public justification: widely accepted constitutional values and the primacy of public deliberation. In this view, political whistleblowing is to be seen as a special case of civil disobedience and can be justified along the lines of both liberal and republican approaches. However, in the end of the paper I will indicate that we have to transcend the state-based model of civil disobedience. Snowden’s acts of whistleblowing have a further cosmopolitan intention and need to be justified in terms of avant-garde principles of global justice.