Edward Snowden rocked the world in 2013 after revealing widescale spying that was being conducted by the US Government on civilians. Snowden had been a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA).

His decision to reveal this led to some people lauding him as a hero, whilst others lambasted him for being a traitor. The debate regarding his decision to blow the whistle is an interesting one.

Some believe he was a hero that was willing to give up his life to let people know the truth, but others suggest he was a traitor to his country, and much of his actions were attention-seeking. We analyse both sides – and invite you to vote at the end regarding your opinion.


Edward Snowden was born in 1983 and is an American citizen. After working for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and DELL, Snowden was hired by Booz Allen Hamilton – a well-known contractor for the NSA.

He left the agency in 2013, and fled the US. A matter of weeks after his departure, Snowden revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists – with the revelations subsequently reported on all over the world.

The documents revealed widescale spying that was being conducted by many governments around the world – including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Snowden was instantly catapulted into worldwide fame, and became seen as the ultimate whistleblower. While whistleblowing has resulted in revelations of some pretty big events, this event was seen as something highly unique.

American authorities launched a manhunt to locate Snowden, who soon fled to Russia, who continue to provide him with asylum. He continues to live in Russia in an undisclosed location. If Snowden does ever return to the US, he is likely to face life in jail.

Ever since his decision to release the classified documents, an intense debate has surrounded Snowden. There are many good points around both arguments.

Arguments That Suggest Ed Snowden is a “Hero”

There are several arguments that suggest Ed Snowden is a hero:

  • Snowden believed that the personal freedom of people around the world was being violated by the widescale surveillance. By making these revelations, he was able to shed light on this to millions of people who were unaware they were effectively being monitored.
  • There is an argument to suggest that as people never consented to being spied on, that their privacy was breached. This is something that has led to many people changing the way they behave online, helping to protect themselves more.
  • While it is a topic of discussion in itself, Snowden alleges that he tried to raise the matters internally, but was batted away by his superiors. If this is true, it does show that leaking classified information wasn’t his first course of action – so that he tried to avoid this.
  • Snowden was aware that by releasing the documents, that he would never be welcome in the US ever again, meaning he would have to effectively leave his entire life behind. He decided to do so, which many see as being a heroic and selfless act.
  • Without whistleblowers, many scandals in history would have gone unnoticed. It is important that whistleblowers are protected – but this isn’t always the case. It could be argued that Snowden needs to be protected.
  • The west espouses freedom of speech, and it could be argued in this way that Snowden was justified. For those that support freedom of speech – it could be seen that this was the ultimate action of this crucial action.
  • Snowden did show a level of restraint – he didn’t leak some of the algorithms used, which is at least one positive. Some suggest that by showing this restraint, he was able at least to protect the US to an extent.
  • Snowden’s actions were able to launch a global discussion into widescale government surveillance. This was important, and helped to bring an important discussion into conversation.

Arguments That Suggest Ed Snowden is a “Traitor”

Equally, there are several arguments that suggest Ed Snowden is a traitor:

  • Snowden’s actions were without doubt a threat to the security of the United States and its allies. By releasing classified documents, it can result in a direct threat to the lives of many people, and could expose flaws in the way the US government operates.
  • The age old riposte to spying is that if someone hasn’t got anything to hide, why should they be worried? With this in mind, it could be argued that the spying is justified – especially given the threats that have been foiled due to the spying.
  • Terrorism is a big threat to the west – and spying has helped to save many lives. Similar to the above point, this could certainly be seen as justifying its use. If increasing surveillance is what it takes to save lives, then isn’t it a necessary evil?
  • Snowden also showed a lack of loyalty to his employers, who entrusted him with classified documents. No one else decided to blow the whistle, he showed no loyalty to his co-workers.
  • Snowden was being paid well for his work, and despite his seemingly ethical problems with the work he was doing, it didn’t stop him from picking up wage packet after wage packet. It could be argued that he is a hypocrite.
  • Many people see Snowden as a coward. This is because he didn’t stick around and face the consequences of his actions, instead he decided to flee the country. He has since failed to return to the US. Many see this as the ultimate act of cowardice.
  • Many have also lambasted Snowden for being “attention-seeking”. Some suggest that he wasn’t actually interested in exposing the spying, but instead he wanted the fame that would go along with it. Only Snowden knows his true intentions.
  • Whether Snowden likes it or not, he committed a crime. He is still being sought on espionage charges. He did betray his country’s legal system, and is a criminal in the eyes of the court – something that shouldn’t be forgotten.

The Takeaway

Ed Snowden is a polarising figure, and one that will forever be known. His decision to blow the whistle on the NSA continues to be a topic of discussion. Each person has differing opinions.

Below is a reader’s poll which we would love you to vote on. We will be able to see the overall consensus of our readers. Below that is a list of other debates that exist.

Is Edward Snowden a Hero or a Traitor?