The Ends Seldom Justify the Means

The ends seldom justify the means. You need to decide if it is morally and legally right or wrong for the government to capture information about every phone call you make and every email you send without considering *why* they’re doing it. For example, the government can’t force you to worship (or not worship) a particular deity for the purpose of preventing you from committing a crime. It’s wrong for the government to deprive you of rights guaranteed by our Constitution and laws, period. So giving examples of how the collection of what some might consider private information protected the country from terrorist attacks is irrelevant.

Similarly and by extension, good intentions do not make an otherwise wrong action right. You need to decide if it’s morally and legally right or wrong for an employee of a government contractor to reveal details about otherwise secret operations of the government without considering why they’re doing it. Edward Snowden claims he was protecting the rights of Americans when he violated his contractual obligation to keep certain secrets related to his work for the government. Arguing that he’s a “good kid” with “good intentions” is irrelevant.

Now, it may be the case that the collection of this data by the NSA is completely legal and constitutional. And it may be the case that Snowden did not reveal any information that wasn’t already public knowledge. But it is not because they are protecting us from terrorism or looking out for our liberty.

If we accept the argument that the government is justified in collecting this data because they’re protecting us from terrorism, then we must also accept the argument that the government can and should make it a crime to worship Allah in the United States. If we accept the argument that Snowden is a good kid with good intentions and his goal was to preserve our privacy and civil liberties, and therefore his actions were not wrong, then we must also accept the argument that pedophiles are acting in love when they “molest” children, that bank robbers are just trying to feed their families, and that burglars are simply “redistributing wealth”. Therefore none of these criminals are really guilty of any crime.

Both the NSA and Snowden may be innocent of all crime. But it won’t be because of their motives. Unfortunately, virtually every argument being given in these cases is related to motive, not legal facts.

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