"Corner Field Football Game" by Lorenzo Cafaro is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Pexels)

Saudi Arabia is the latest Arab Gulf country making waves lately. In a recent World Cup qualifier game between the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and the winning Australian national soccer team, the Saudi players ignored the call for a moment of silence dedicated to recent victims in London. Two Australian women were killed in the recent attacks, so this moment was very important to many watching the game. Football Federation Australia organized the dedication, which approved by the Asian Football Confederation, but this approval was either lost in translation or ignored by Saudi officials.

"Satan Before The Lord" by Corrado Giaquinto is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

Arturo Sousa, the Superior General of the Society for Jesus (Jesuits) recently said in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo that, “we have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil.” His words seem to imply that Satan is not a real being, but just a symbol; the devil would be more akin to Lex Luthor than Adolf Hitler, i.e., a fictional character.

"Computer" by Pexels is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Pexels)

The norms of communication on social media are evolving quickly. In the first death penalty case involving social media, a court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death for blasphemy. Though Taimoor Raza still has appeals remaining that he can avail himself of, this verdict has come days after a college professor was refused bail on charges of blasphemy; the attitude of the state towards such online offenses seems clear.

"Serial Podcast" by Casey Fiesler is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

In late 2016, Up and Vanished, a podcast produced and hosted by independent filmmaker-turned-podcaster Payne Lindsey, released its first episode.  The topic of the podcast is the until recently cold murder case of Georgia eleventh-grade history teacher Tara Grinstead.  Grinstead went missing, presumably from her home in Ocilla, Georgia, in October 2005.  

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"Edward Snowden at Upper Canada College, World Affairs Conference 2015" by RogerSheaffe is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

James Comey, former Director of the FBI, recently testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding conversations that he had with President Trump. The public knew some of the details from these conversations before Comey’s testimony, because he had written down his recollections in memos, and portions of these memos were leaked to the press. We now know that Comey himself was responsible for leaking the memos. He reportedly did so to force the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. It turned out that his gamble was successful, as Robert Mueller was appointed special prosecutor to lead the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

After the testimony, President Trump blasted Comey as a Leaker. He tweeted, “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump later tweeted that Comey’s leaking was “Very ‘cowardly!’” Trump’s antipathy towards leaking makes sense against the background of the unprecedented number of leaks occurring during his term in office. It seems as if there is a new leak every day. Given the politically damaging nature of these leaks, supporters of the president have been quick to condemn them as endangering national security, and to call for prosecutions of these leakers. Just recently, NSA contractor Reality Winner was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking classified materials to the press. However, it is worth remembering that, during the election campaign, then-candidate Trump praised Wikileaks on numerous occasions for its release of the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee.

A cynical reading of this recent chain of events suggests that the stance that government figures take towards the ethics of leaking is purely motivated by politics. Leaking is good when it damages a political opponent. Leaking is bad when it damages a political ally.  Sadly, this may be a true analysis of politicians’ shifting stances towards leakers. However, it does not answer the underlying question as to whether leaking can ever be morally permissible and, if it can be, under what circumstances might it be?

Approaches may differ, but I think it is reasonable to ask this question in a way that assumes that government leaking requires special justification. This is for two reasons. First, the leaking of classified information is almost always a violation of federal law. Leaking classified information violates the Espionage Act, which sets out penalties of imprisonment for individuals who disclose classified information to those not entitled to receive it. As a general moral rule, individuals ought to obey all laws, unless a special justification exists for their violation. General conformity to the law ensures an order and stability necessary to the safety, security, and well-being of the nation. More specifically, the Espionage Act is intended to protect the nation’s security. Leaking classified information to the press risks our nation’s intelligence operations by potentially exposing our sources and methods to hostile foreign governments.

Second, as Stephen L. Carter of Bloomberg points out, “leakers are liars,” and there is a strong moral presumption against lying. Carter provides a succinct explanation: “The leaker goes to work every day and implicitly tells colleagues, ‘You can trust me with Secret A.’ Then the leaker, on further consideration, decides to share Secret A with the world. The next day the leaker goes back to work and says, ‘You can trust me with Secret B.’ But it’s a lie. The leaker cannot be trusted.”

The strong presumption against lying flows from the idea that morality requires that we do not make an exception of ourselves in our actions. We generally want and expect others to tell us the truth; we have no right ourselves, then, to be cavalier with the truth when speaking with others. Lying may sometimes be justified, but it requires strong reasons in its favor.

Ethical leaking might be required to meet two standards: (A) the leak is intended to achieve a public good that overrides the moral presumption lying and law-breaking, or (B) leaking is the only viable option to achieving this public good. What public good does leaking often promote? Defenders of leaks often argue that leaking reveals information that the public needs to know to hold their leaders accountable for wrongdoing. Famous leaker Edward Snowden, for example, revealed information concerning the surveillance capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA); it is arguable that the public needed to know this information to have an informed debate on the acceptable limits of government surveillance and its relation to freedom and security.

Since leaking often involves lying and breaking the law, it must be considered whether other options exist, besides leaking, to promote the public good at issue. Government figures who criticize leakers often claim that they have avenues within the government to protest wrong-doing. Supporters of Snowden’s actions pointed out, however, that legal means to expose the NSA’s surveillance programs were not open to him because, as a contractor, he did not have the same whistleblower protections as do government employees and because NSA’s programs were considered completely legal by the US government at the time. Leaking appeared to be his only viable option for making the information public.

Each act of leaking appears to require a difficult moral calculation. How much damage will my leaking do to the efforts of the national security team? How important is it for the public to know this classified information? How likely is it that I could achieve my goals through legal means within the government system? Though a moral presumption against leaking may exist—you shouldn’t leak classified information for just any old reason—leaking in the context of an unaccountable government engaged in serious wrongdoing has been justified in the past, and I expect we will see many instances in the future where government leaks will be justified.

"Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal" by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Wall Street standoff between the Fearless Girl and the Charging Bull sculptures. It’s quite clear that Americans are still split between Team Girl or Team Bull, but now there is a new player in the mix.  Recently, Charging Bull gained a new ally in the form of a temporary installation named Sketchy Dog, who spent his few hours of fame urinating on the girl.

"Evo Morales" by Sebastian Baryli is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

It’s no secret that indigenous populations in Latin American countries have suffered all sorts of abuses ever since Columbus’ arrival to the so-called “New World” 500 years ago. It is undeniably true that there is the ethical obligation of bringing social justice to these peoples, and that ever since independence from the Spanish Crown in the 19th Century, criollo governments have failed to do so.

"Barry Goldwater Statuary Hall" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The September/October 1964 issue of Fact magazine was dedicated to the then Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, and his fitness for office. One of the founders of Fact, Ralph Ginzburg, had sent out a survey to over 12,000 psychiatrists asking a single question: “Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?” Only about 2,400 responses were received, and about half of the responses indicated that Goldwater was not psychologically fit to be president. The headline of that issue of Fact read: “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

"Angela Wade, a 911 dispatcher at the Camp Lejeune 911 Emergency Consolidated Communications Center, takes calls and monitors five different screens at the center, June 20" is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The caller said the student had a gun. Placed on the night of May 1 to Colgate University’s campus safety department, the call provoked a full-scale lockdown of the upstate New York college. For four hours, students waited in their dorms as police combed the campus for the shooter. Soon, though, it became clear that the caller had been wrong. There was no active shooter. Instead, the caller had seen a black student walking into an academic building holding a glue gun.

"Facebook" by Geralt is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Pixabay)

On the evening of Easter Sunday, 74-year-old Pennsylvania resident Robert Godwin was enjoying a walk through his neighborhood after a holiday meal with his family when he was approached, at random, by self-described “monster” Steve Stephens.  Stephens, who was given the moniker “The Facebook Killer” by the media, blamed what was about to happen to Godwin on his broken relationship with his girlfriend, before shooting Godwin in the head, killing him instantly.