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Just and Unjust Leaks

When to Spill Secrets

Edward Snowden speaking via video link, May 2017 Robert Marchante / Reuters

All governments, all political parties, and all politicians keep secrets and tell lies. Some lie more than others, and those differences are important, but the practice is general. And some lies and secrets may be justified, whereas others may not. Citizens, therefore, need to know the difference between just and unjust secrets and between just and unjust deception before they can decide when it may be justifiable for someone to reveal the secrets or expose the lies—when leaking confidential information, releasing classified documents, or blowing the whistle on misconduct may be in the public interest or, better, in the interest of democratic government. 

Revealing official secrets and lies involves a form of moral risk-taking: whistleblowers may act out of a sense of duty or conscience, but the morality of their actions can be judged only by their fellow citizens, and only after the fact. This is often a difficult

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