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The Personal Toll of Whistle-Blowing (newyorker.com)
277 points by gringoDan 83 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments



>One interviewee, in response to a question about what advice he would give a potential whistle-blower, wrote, “[Can they] afford 5 years of their life in turmoil?” Another said, “Part of your ability to do anything about this is keeping yourself together,” and suggested that whistle-blowers find someone “like a minister or a shrink who’s confidentiality-protected,” because “this could go on for a while.” A high proportion of whistle-blowers reported divorces or other marital strain, family conflicts, and stress-related health issues including shingles, autoimmune disorders, panic attacks, insomnia, and migraines. Several of them said that the financial consequences were devastating.

More than anything, I didn't realize how long these cases seem to take. But I wonder: if there was a way to reduce the duration of the cases, would that reduce the impact on whistleblowers? Is that possible somehow? Retaliation is also a big concern, of course, as the article makes clear.

Also, I found this interesting: >the first documented whistle-blowing case in the United States took place in 1777, not long after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when a group of naval officers, including Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven, witnessed their commanding officer torturing British prisoners of war. When they reported the misconduct to Congress, the commanding officer charged Shaw and Marven with libel, and both men were jailed. The following year, Congress passed a law protecting whistle-blowers, and Shaw and Marven were acquitted by a jury.


   But I wonder: if there was a way to reduce the duration of the cases, would that reduce the impact on whistleblowers?
I remember reading somewhere recently about the standard M.O for federal cases. They take a long time in order to build an extremely solid case. That's why federal conviction rates are so high.

Intuitively it makes sense. If you're gonna go after some naughty people for doing naughty things, you really don't want to rush the investigation and have the findings fall apart at trial.


This is totally incorrect. The high conviction rate is a result of extremely high maximum sentences. People who are 100% innocent often plead guilty after being threatened with a 30-year prison sentence that would be only 1 or 2 years under local law.

Many federal crimes are unconstitutional and deliberately vague, like "lying (not volunteering incriminating evidence) to an investigator" and "mail fraud" which is just a way to charge you in federal court where the odds are stacked against you.

The US federal judicialry is a kangaroo court. 99% of federal crimes should be repealed and maximum sentences reduced to be in line with state laws.

Federal jury selection is also suspect, especially in cases involving "national security".


> like "lying (not volunteering incriminating evidence) to an investigator"

This is literally the purpose of the 5th amendment. If you get asked a question where the answer would incriminate you, you are well within your rights to refuse to answer the question. Taking the path of deliberately attempt to mislead investigators is most certainly a crime and it should be.


In principle I agree with you. In practice however, the FBI just uses this to harrass people. Look at what happened to Marth Stewart. She was totally innocent, did not say anything factually incorrect, but the feds thought she exagerated in some of her answers. That level of subjectivity shouldn't be involved in determining a criminal offense.


I assume whomever downvoted You has forgotten what happened to Aaron Schwartz.


He's probably being down-voted for saying erroneous things like

> The high conviction rate is a result of extremely high maximum sentences. People who are 100% innocent often plead guilty after being threatened with a 30-year prison sentence that would be only 1 or 2 years under local law.

That's erroneous because very few federal defendants actually face such long sentences, so those that do so pleading guilty is not a plausible explanation for high conviction rates.

Federal sentences for a particular instance of a crime are based on the class of the crime and on the details of the particular instance. The class sets an upper limit, which often is long, up to 20 years, but it is the details that determine how much you can actually get. To actually get anywhere near that 20 years you have to have a lot of the details against you. Typically this means you caused a lot of damages or harm, had multiple prior convictions for similar crimes, where doing it as part of organized crime, and similar things.

Swartz is a good example. A lot of reporting said he faced 30 years or 50 years or similar big numbers. Actually, he was looking at maybe 6 or 7 years if things went as favorably as possible for prosecutors.

The DOJ bears a lot of the blame for that bad reporting. They make no attempt in the press releases announcing indictments to actually compute the maximum sentence for the particular instance of the crime. They just give the maximum that it is possible for the worst possible instance of that crime committed by the worst possible defendant.

Here's a good article on federal sentence length [1].

[1] https://www.popehat.com/2013/02/05/crime-whale-sushi-sentenc...


When you say "he was looking at maybe 6 or 7 years if things went as favorably as possible for prosecutors"

Do you know this for a fact?

Because the way I understand it is, he was facing multiple decades in prison IF all charges stuck. And once you got to trial, all charges can stick. It has happened. So he was facing 35 years. So saying he wasn't is just wrong.

Your 6-7 years is 'probably'.

I think what your saying is: The federal government doesn't threaten you with 35 years, they threaten you with 10x3.5 years, and since it is possible that not all 10 will stick... it's not really a 35 year threat?

I mean, if I threaten to punch you 10 times but I might stop at 1,2,3 or any number and I probably won't get to 10, but we can negotiate before I start, is it not a 10 punch threat?

To me it seems like you are splitting hairs in order to defend the indefensible. The practice of tacking on as many charges to get people to plea bargain is unethical and fascist.


There's no way to know it as a fact because the judge is legally allowed to apply any sentence up to that maximum. His link shows that most judges follow the guidelines, and vary rarely go over them. Intelligent decisions are ones that are made after understanding probabilities. Unfortunately Aaron decided to take the guaranteed outcome of suicide over the small chance that he'd serve multiple decades. I think we all can agree that that was not the right choice.

We see this sort of "up to" crap all the time in our culture. It's still misleading. Accurate, but fundamentally misleading and wrong.


So you are saying: Judges never convict people to the maximum sentence? I'm sorry, your point isn't very clear. It's a bit muddled.

Or are you saying that his probably of being sentenced to the maximum was low? If so, how low? And when does it stop being 'intelligent' to consider a small probability with a horribly outcome? I mean, in your intelligent opinion.


I don't think they're saying never. If you look at the recommended guidelines[1], for a crime like Schwartz's the maximum could theoretically be many years, but the guidelines would suggest a sentence between 0 and a few years (he'd be in the first column assuming he didn't have any criminal history. Depending on what modifiers come into play his "offense level" could be as low as 6[2]. Maybe it would be more than that, but he certainly wouldn't hit level 40, which is what it would take to get a 30+ years sentence. Even though a judge can technically give a higher sentence than the guidelines, it's fairly rare— it happened less than 3% of the time in 2017.[3]

depending [1]: https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/guidelines-manu... [2]: See §2B1.1 at https://www.ussc.gov/guidelines/2018-guidelines-manual/2018-... [3]: Table 8 at https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-pu...


Remember the original comment only said that people plea because of the big threat. It is a big threat. And given the fact that you probably wouldn't take a 1:33 chance on Russian roulette, it seem it is a big threat to you.

But not when it is on others. Then it's fine 'because low probability'. In fact, many of the apologists for what happened go as far as to conflate in a single post low probability with no probability.

The double think is amazing.


The 3% who were sentenced above the guideline amount were not chosen at random. They were people who had specific factors in their cases that allowed for an above guideline sentence.

These are factors such as causing a death, causing significant physical injury, causing extreme psychological harm to your victims beyond that one would expect from the crime, abducting people, causing property damage beyond what is taken into account by the guidelines, using weapons during the crime, or torture.

Swartz did not have any of the factors that could end one up in the 3%.


Ah tzs again. Let me quote you:

"lot of reporting said he faced 30 years... Actually, he was looking at maybe 6 or 7 years if things went as favorably as possible for prosecutors."

So let me ask again, last time you didn't answer: Is the chance of a 35 year sentence for Aaron 0%?

No? Then do the intellectually honest thing and admit you are wrong. Your correcting somebody by saying wrong things. And then doubling down on it.

Low probability is not 0%. Whatever the probability was, it was real that they could have given him 30 years. Unlikely? Yeah. But I'll bet you wouldn't play Russian roulette at those odds; whatever they may be.


>Low probability is not 0%. Whatever the probability was, it was real that they could have given him 30 years. Unlikely? Yeah. But I'll bet you wouldn't play Russian roulette at those odds; whatever they may be.

But that's the question. The probability is not 0%. It may be %0.01, or %0.001. Can either of us find any existing cases where a defendant with Aaron's background received a 33-level sentence increase? I would propose that that has never happened in cases with similar circumstances to Aaron's. If you can find one, I'd be interested in the citation.

In the absence of any examples, my argument is that the chance of a 35 year sentence is not functionally different from 0%, and Aaron (and any other defendant in this situation) should have made decisions based on the 99% of sentences they were actually likely to receive.

One last note: you mentioned playing Russian Roulette at those odds. Russian Roulette normally has a 16% chance of death. I wouldn't play RR at 16% odds. Would I play it a 0.001% odds? Probably, presuming the benefits of playing RR were of significant value to me.

Aaron's chance of a 35 year sentence was not 16%. It was also not 0.0%. It's somewhere in-between, and unless you have evidence that shows otherwise, I'd personally guess it was below 0.01%, and his choice of suicide remains a tragic one. YMMV.


Read the other apologists. They quote a 3% deviation from sentencing guidelines.

Sentencing guidelines for Aaron were 6-7 years. A single wire charge on max penalty could be 20. All you need is one judge who saw WarGames to want to make an example out of the kid.

I don't know what the probability is. You don't either. Likely no one did. But that probably has weight.

It's disturbing: the callous indifference to that weight by those who question the exact kilos from an arm chair expert point of view.

This whole thing has parallels to other situations:

A Powerful Group is responsible for a system that perpetrated an injustice.

Members of the powerful group are confronted with the injustice. Members have the following reactions:

Denial (high dissonance)

Disgust

Apologists

Apologists do the same thing: They minimize, deny, question and speculate.

What apologists of all kinds don't realize is that even if they are right, they are wrong.

The callous indifference shown, instead of the guttural understanding of something wrong being needed to be made right... is what is so hard to understand. Even if your argument that the official numbers are overblown by x%.


> Read the other apologists. They quote a 3% deviation from sentencing guidelines

In any given year, around 4% of women in the US will get pregnant. Suppose Alice is a sexually active woman in the US who uses the pill religiously, and who requires her sex partners to wear condoms.

Do you think that because 4% of women will get pregnant this year, and Alice is a women, Alice has a 4% chance of getting pregnant?

That's the kind of reasoning you are using with the 3% figure for upward deviations in sentencing. You are assuming that because 3% of sentences are above guidelines, everyone who is sentenced is equally at risk for an above guideline sentence.

> Sentencing guidelines for Aaron were 6-7 years. A single wire charge on max penalty could be 20. All you need is one judge who saw WarGames to want to make an example out of the kid.

A judge cannot just arbitrarily exceed the guidelines like that. There are specific factors and considerations that a judge must cite to justify an upward deviation, and they are not applicable in Swartz's case. A judge who just arbitrarily decided to apply his own criteria to come up with 20 years would have that quickly overturned on appeal as an abuse of discretion.

You want to know what happens to someone in Swartz's situation if he gets a judge that wants to throw the book at him? He gets 7 years. That's the result of a hard line judge accepting an exaggerated damages claim and not applying any of the factors that would allow lowering the sentence. That's why his lawyers, the prosecutors, and outside lawyers all said he would probably actually get at most a few months--the 7 year number is the "judge who saw WarGames to want to make an example out of the kid" number.


I literally said the exact opposite of what you claim I said. Sometimes when I get riled up online it's helpful to take some deep breaths and come back to it later.


We know his own lawyer said that he was unlikely to get more than a couple years, and was plausibly looking at a non-custodial sentence even if convicted.

We also know that the absurd sentences you're referring to would be departures from the federal sentencing guidelines, which spell out where in the range of possible sentences each specific case lands.


Suppose I toss a brick through the window of a government office overnight when no one is inside, causing $101 worth of damage. I could be charged with felony destruction of government property, a crime with the statute says has a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $250k find.

Am I facing 10 years in prison? No! That's because the way sentencing works under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is that the sentence range is looked up in a table whose rows range from short sentences up to the maximum (10 years in this case). The biggest factor in that lookup is how much monetary damage I caused. At $101 I'm going go get a row with a sentencing range that is something like up to a year or so.

To push it up to where my sentencing row actually includes 10 years I'd have to have done a lot more damage, such as blown up the building.

(There are other factors that also go into picking the row, such as if I have prior convictions for similar crimes).

When I'm indicted, though, the DOJ press release will tout that I've been charged with a crime with up to 10 years and $250k fines as penalties. They'd say the same thing when indicting someone who blew up the whole building. Their press releases make no attempt to convey the sentence the person is actually facing based on the facts the DOJ is alleging about that person's alleged crime.

In the case of someone charged with multiple crimes there is another factor that leads to inflated numbers. The same underlying acts can often support more than one charge. Similar crimes are grouped together for sentencing under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and if you are charged with and convicted of more than one crime from the same group based on the same underlying acts, you are only sentenced for one of them.

Unfortunately, this grouping is often ignored in press releases and reporting about potential sentencing.

In most cases, those multi-decade numbers you see people talk are due to one or both of the aforementioned issues: (1) not taking into account what the person is actually alleged to have done, and (2) ignoring grouping if the person is charged with more than one thing.

Here is a detailed analysis of Swartz's possible sentencing [1]. The earlier article by the same author looking at what he was charged with is also interesting [2].

[1] http://volokh.com/2013/01/16/the-criminal-charges-against-aa...

[2] http://volokh.com/2013/01/14/aaron-swartz-charges/


Your 6-7 years is 'probably'. PEOPLE DO GET MAXIMUM. It happens. Therefore you saying it doesn't won't change anything. Your equating low probability with no probability. This is a false equation.

Have some intellectual honesty and admit you were wrong.


Did you read the link? See popehat [0] as well. The prosecutors said he should get the 6 or 7 years. And, if the judge went crazy and ignored the guidelines, this is what appeals are for. You seem to be the one lacking intellectual honesty here!

0. https://www.popehat.com/2013/03/24/three-things-you-may-not-...


>0% != 0%


People are risk averse. The maximum sentences exist to scare people into irrationally pleading guilty when they are innocent. Federal maximum sentences are out of line with state sentencing because the federal government is less local and less accountable. Many federal crimes exist solely to trump up this maximum possible sentence. Politically connected people use this system to protect themselves against whistleblowers and political activists like Swartz and Snowden. I dont think you have addressed any of these points.


... or they know about the time a woman in Pennsylvania was able to seek justice by getting her murder-attempting neighbor on mail fraud when the local cops wouldn't do anything.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/02/21/us.scotus.toxic.love/ind...


Or Wen Ho Lee - charged with 59 counts of espionage (stealing nuclear secrets). Eventually was convicted/plead to one count of mishandling data and went on to get a $1mil settlement.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wen_Ho_Lee


Swartz


Or maybe puts on tin foil hat they know exactly what happened to him.


You also don’t want them to continue fucking you over for years making billions, then get a solid settlement of a few million.


Indeed, Federal prosecutors tend to be pretty effective, and the amount of data in these corporate cases that needs to be reviewed is enormous.


The quote formatted for mobile:

> But I wonder: if there was a way to reduce the duration of the cases, would that reduce the impact on whistleblowers?


This reads like an advertisement for the FBI. A bigger story is how Obama removed protections and actively attacked whistle blowers after promising the most transparent government ever. That had true toll.


You mean like when Obama got legislation passed to protect them?

https://www.whistleblowers.org/news/obama-signs-whistleblowe...


I mean more like his actual actions vs campaign promises. As usual the name of the legislation is the opposite of what it does. That bill allowed further restrictions on government employees, attempting to unshield them from the 1989 whistleblower protection act.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-van-buren/silencing-whi...

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/jan/10...


Didn't help Snowden much.


He was never charged, hence could not be pardoned. However, it is duly noted that I'm trying to reconcile being objective about Obama's own nuanced position, while also supporting whistleblowers like Snowden, Manning and Winner.


An interesting story of turning whistleblowing into a business is Ven-a-care pharmacy in the Florida Keys.[1]

They started out as a small pharmacy, but now have a team of lawyers. They’ve gotten over $600M in whistleblower rewards as of the early 2010’s. Not sure what the total is now.

[1]https://www.cnbc.com/id/41491563


Did they have lawyers to begin with? How did they get awarded these funds if it was not their case to begin with?


The legal doctrine arose from the common law Qui Tam writ, modified by statute for use stateside. The wiki page is pretty good. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qui_tam


For me there is a related issue that is just as problematic or worse. There are certain things that are critical of the US government that are simply not allowed to be spoken in most US centric places. The public effectively censors itself. I could mention some specific things but that would trigger it and then no one would see my comment. In general you can get away with mentioning things from the distant past but nothing particularly heinous or recent. I think that this is because people want to believe that their side has a moral high ground.


Ive noticed this too alot lately and I've actually started to question if our ideals are really moral.

I think we have a very serious conversation ahead of us as a culture.

Are we the bad guys?


Well that's interesting but its a little bit different from what I am talking about because I personally don't question most of the supposed American ideals (at least as I see them). Really I'm talking about actions rather than ideals.


Is there anything more “bad guy” than espousing high ideals which run contrary to centuries of actions? Still at some point you’d hope that people notice the disconnect and feel disturbed.

“Hans... are we the baddies?”

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU


We've avoided that conversation for two hundred years, why is it ahead of us now? If anything, blind patriotism makes it easier to ignore.


Every single time I mention something good about any country other than the US to my relatives they get SUPER angry and shout "Then why the F* don't you move there".

It is so confusing to me. Not saying I love the US but if someone did... shouldn't they want to improve it?


They don't want it to be good they want to feel good about it. Introspection makes them angry. This toxic anti-intellectualism is sadly common and has been promoted by people in power for ages. One would think an advertising culture is to blame but given that it happens even in the absence of it it totally predates it. Probably tribalistic.


Well, it's true that there are things you can't just assert without controversy. If you say anything you have to make an argument or link to some evidence, because they're not well-known.


What I'm talking about are certain views that regardless of what evidence or argument you make, people will hit the downvote button, call you crazy, or flag the post.


This wasn’t so much about the personal toll of whistleblowing as the fucked up system and the apparent impossibility to do wrong as a US corporation.

This was a really depressing story on multiple levels.


It seems like the biggest problem outlined in the article was the inability to get a job as a known whistleblower. I think that would happen in pretty much any system, unfortunately.

It takes a lot of courage to rat on an employer. Your career is probably over if you do.


Ireland is still recovering from the Maurice McCabe case https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garda_whistleblower_scandal#Ma... He was ostracized by his colleagues and even painted as a pedophile by Senior Gardai(Police) trying to discredit him. An absolute horror of a story when you get into the details, spent nearly a decade proving his life fighting the case and clearing his name. Can't imagine any Gardai whistleblowers in Ireland for a long time.


I hate the last few months of the year, when ads for car dealerships get pushed away by ads for "Medicare Advantage" plans which sound like something you need to get Grandma away from.

It's kind of thing that seems like a scam to normal people, but politicians seem to think is a way to save money. Go figure. I don't see how you can save money when you start out by adding 13% extra at the beginning to give the private sector some profit to work with.


> A few days later, in early September, 2014, Sewell was rushed to the hospital with a serious head injury after an accidental fall inside his house. Medical personnel found a clot in his brain. After three days in the hospital, Sewell died, at the age of thirty-nine.

Head injuries are no joke, people. Even if you recover from them, the epidemiology suggests there are life-long consequences for mental health, intelligence, income, impulse control...


For me, Mark Felt sets the right template - get other people to do the publicising, leak anonymously and keep heavily in the shadows. Sometimes literally.

Just do not put your head above the parapet.


Some whistleblowers might have dismissed this option out of fear for their live. Being under public scrutiny can provide a lot of safety.


I keep thinking that in cases of any real size that these people should be put into witness relocation programs. Additionally, continue to pay them their current salary but not require them to work. We need people who know to speak out and therefore need to protect them.


Additionally, continue to pay them their current salary but not require them to work.

An unintended consequence of this might be that people make false allegations. It's tough to find the right balance. Maybe they get a stipend to live on, and the money is put into escrow for when the case is resolved.


Yeah, the presumption is that entry in the program is based on them sharing documents and other data with authorities that pass some level of scrutiny.


Or give them a small percentage of what they save tax payers. A whistle-blower who saves tax payers billions should be set for life.

Guess not all whistle-blowing is about stealing money, but I best most of it is.


> Or give them a small percentage of what they save tax payers

That's exactly what the law encourages.


That's exactly how SEC whistleblower awards work.

https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2018-44


So Freedom only got a slap on the wrist, basically


When asked about the Freedom fine, [Patel] responded, "I decided to take it as a cost of doing business."

This is the problem, why should you not take dubiously legal or moral action, if there isn't a significant deterrent?


Because you shouldn't be an asshole. People aren't animals unless they have some sword of Damocles hanging over them keeping them in line, it is a conscious choice to do the wrong thing.


Sure, many good people follow the law because they're not assholes, but they were out advertised and out grown by one asshole who broke the law and was never punished.

On a micro scale, not wanting to be an asshole will cause people to follow the laws. On a macro scale, the only way to make people follow the law is to make breaking the law costly.


Social pressure doesn't seem to work in societies as big as we now have. There's not much meaningful feedback from victims to wealthy criminals, because these hardly ever even meet. Financial incentives override social responsibility in such a situation, and I don't see how to address wrongdoings except by changing the incentives.


You can't expect this of people. When you do expect this, as you seem to, you end up setting up a society where sociopaths like that guy are able to rise to the top and profit handsomely because the people who made the rules just can't seem to conceive of someone who doesn't mind being an asshole as long as it gets him ahead.


This is about the US. I don't live there, I do think that and while it is super bad everywhere on earth I think we can agree the US is pulling the cart in terms of terrible. Frankly you I think the argument that "this is just how it'll be" is not one that is terribly convincing on it's own.

Yes, it'll go wrong. It'll also go right. I don't think we need to structure our society like a prison just because it has the capacity to be worse than we like it to be.


Of course it is, but you’re not in it for anything but the money.


pretty typical. look at Snowden. The guy ruined his own life and nobody still gives a damn. Was it worth it? i dont think so. He definitely should have kept quiet even if it was against his own personal beliefs. It sucks but it is what it is.

HSBC got slapped on the wrist for laundering cartel money.

"If you’re suspected of drug involvement, America takes your house; HSBC admits to laundering cartel billions, loses five weeks’ income and execs have to partially defer bonuses"

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/outrageo...

happens all the time with corporations.


>He definitely should have kept quiet even if it was against his own personal beliefs.

That argument for moral complacency is largely self-fulfilling, because if nobody thinks that one person defecting will change anything, you'll never get more than one defector at once, and nothing will ever change. In that way everyone will march in lockstep to hell and deserve every bit of the torture that's waiting for them.

The foremost thing that Snowden achieved was that he quit doing the bad thing. There is some value in not being an active contributor to the suffering in the world. Sure, if you quit littering that won't clean up the parks, but at least you won't be a litterer anymore. The first thing Snowden did to improve the state of the world was reducing the number of NSA employees by one; and he improved himself by switching from NSA employee to unemployed. Too many people overlook this, thinking that all that matters is whether or not the world is good on average, while ignoring whether or not they themselves are good.

Secondly, Snowden hasn't been forgotten. It might take a few more to follow in his footsteps before the lesson sinks in to the public, but the things he revealed are still out there.

Finally, there actually have been some changes because of his actions (I saved the most concrete point for last). Nobody on HN discounts the reality of malicious state attackers anymore - it used to be that nobody expected to be on the receiving end of a state level attack (and we never secured appropriately), but now it's common knowledge that Public Enemy Number One is actually the public itself. Snowden definitely helped push forward HTTPS rollouts, for example.


Snowden's escape was a near-run thing. He intended to go to Ecuador and got trapped in Russia. He's only living free now because Putin likes showing the rest of the world that the USA is just as bad as Russia. It very easily could have gone another way with Snowden never seeing the light of day again and getting tortured for the rest of his life.

That's a lot to ask of anyone, and why I think Snowden will go down as among the bravest people in history.


You can stop littering without being fucked over by it very easily.


If you stop littering you'll have to carry trash around for longer, which is a personal cost. Littering is a miniature analogy, with and smaller table stakes. The hedonistic difference between making a good salary selling out your countrymen and hiding from your government in Russia is pretty big, a lot bigger than carrying a chip bag around, but the moral difference scales in proportion.

A common fallacy is thinking that you only have to be a good person for matters less than $100. I can't explain it or present an argument in its favor but it is a very common sentiment.


I don’t think that’s a fallacy so much as survival instinct. Doing the ‘right’ thing becomes disproportionally harder when the matter goes over $100.

Good is relative to average, and is a concept that society determines the baseline of.


The problem with recourse to the survival instinct is that survival actually turns around and becomes bad past a certain point. For example, consider the survival of a brutal regime: they might say "we have to be brutal or else the people would stop us." A lighter analogy would be a vampire that drinks blood to say alive: yes, he has to do it to stay alive, but the thing that's being kept alive is a vampire. More realistically, someone might say, "I am embezzling from my company because if I didn't I would default on my house." Of course, that is a silly objection, because the person they're keeping housed is an embezzler.

So, Snowden's choice was between giving a traitor the easy life and facing hardship and uncertainty as a good person. Granted, he had to suffer a lot, but the alternative to suffering was providing comforts to a criminal that happened to be him.


First off I don't think you can make that determination, (was it worth it), only Snowden himself can. Second, while the toll was high for him, those of us who have sworn an oath to the Constitution take that oath very seriously and I applaud him for being one of the rare ones with enough conviction to act on his beliefs instead of just spouting them. Third I am eternally grateful to Snowden because without him all my rants about the coming surveillance dystopia would still be met with incompetent or malicious accusations of being "crackpot conspiracy theory" and generally ridiculed (like many other things the public still hasn't caught up on).


Any other things the public hasn't caught up on that you care to share?


I will try to respond when my work day is over.


>look at Snowden. The guy ruined his own life and nobody still gives a damn. Was it worth it? i dont think so.

If it wasn't worth it, you wouldn't know his name, and you wouldn't be talking about it today. Does that count for nothing to you?


Whether it's "worth it" is completely subjective, and differs from person to person based on their values.

You seem to value having your name remembered; i.e., you value fame, and you're projecting that onto Snowden. I don't know what Snowden values, but assuming he values fame as you do (or that the person you're responding to does) makes no sense.

If the person you responded to values only financial security and a peaceful life, then he's absolutely right to say he doesn't think Snowden's actions were worth it, because to him, Snowden sacrificed all that and got nothing in return but exile in Russia. (I guess it could be worse... there's worse places to live on the planet, but Russia is a pretty lousy place to live in my book.)


>You seem to value having your name remembered; i.e., you value fame, and you're projecting that onto Snowden.

Total bullshit. Nothing I said implies any of this.

What I value is that we can have a discussion premised on facts. Snowden is a real person who exists, and we can discuss what he did and what the consequences are. The alternative is that we discuss a hypothetical whistleblower and have all our reasoning dismissed as fear-mongering or paranoia. That is what I value.

>Whether it's "worth it" is completely subjective, and differs from person to person based on their values.

To be clear, it is worth it to me to have Snowden be a whistleblower because I had to pay nothing for the privilege. There are not many people who would say it is not worth it for someone else to be a whistleblower unless they think whistleblowing is inherently objectionable.


Would you ruin your life if it guaranteed I'd know your name and mention you 6 years later as an example of someone who ruined their life without achieving anything?


You're not the only one talking about him, and that very much contradicts 'not achieving anything'. In any case, your individual perspective being contrary to my claim isn't anything meaningful here, because there isn't an impactful person on this planet who hasn't had their accomplishments trivialized by somebody.


I'm not trivializing his accomplishments. You're the one who's implying he hasn't accomplished anything beyond being an example people bring up in HN comments.

Would that be worth ruining your life? I'm asking for your perspective.


WTF are you reading? I said that the fact that Snowden can be used as an example is evidence of him accomplishing something. Explicitely to argue against the position that he hasn't accomplished anything. I am in no way arguing that he didn't accomplish anything more.

>Would that be worth ruining your life? I'm asking for your perspective.

Would what be worth ruining my life for? Obviously one doesn't make such personal sacrifices solely for personal gain, so if I'm going to ruin my life, it will be because I feel that it could very well lead to the betterment of many other lives. There's no 'perspective' there to glean. The fact that you would personally not value my sacrifice doesn't really impact that, because frankly, I don't give a shit what you think. You're just some rando with an opinion.


> I said that the fact that Snowden can be used as an example is evidence of him accomplishing something.

How is it evidence of anything more than his fame? It's very counter-intuitive that being brought up as an example of an unaccomplished person is evidence of accomplishment. I don't see how that works.

If you want to argue in favor of Snowden having accomplished something important, point out his accomplishments. Your argument is bad and makes it seem like he has none.


What he accomplished was to spark a dialog. That was basically what he set out to do, and his fame is evidence of it, because it can be used to track that dialog.

Your argument is predicated on a category error.


We're currently discussing him in the context of how whistleblowing is ineffective. If that was the conversation he wanted to spark, this is evidence of his success. I believe he wanted to spark a different conversation.

Being famous doesn't really indicate on its own that you've sparked any particular conversation, so I don't see how it's evidence of that.

What argument do you think I'm making and how is it predicated on a category error?


He did spark a different conversation. So many of them, in fact, that you know his name as a consequence of people having those very conversations.

>Being famous doesn't really indicate on its own that you've sparked any particular conversation, so I don't see how it's evidence of that.

That's funny. Edward Snowden's name doesn't seem to be brought up in random-ass conversations. He seems to always come up when people are talking about security and surveillance. I wonder if that's a spurious correlation, or if it is evidence of something? Perhaps some kind of impact that he's had on conversations about those very subjects?

Perhaps you have a better explanation of this correlation?


This guy did OK out of being a whistleblower (barring the prison sentence): https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tax-birkenfeld/whistl...


you cant put a price on time behind prison bars and away from your family.

what if during that time his father died? was 100million "worth it"?


Two points: of course you can put a price on being away from your family. It's called a job, a millions of people do it all the time, often for long, extended periods (e.g. the military, expeditions, etc.) Being in prison is obviously extreme, but if getting out with several lifetimes of wealth means you never have to work again, could easily be a fair trade off.

Second, he went to jail because he committed crimes from which he expected to gain, personally. He was at risk for a longer, more severe sentence had he been discovered and not cooperated with the government.


> Two points: of course you can put a price on being away from your family. It's called a job

In all due respect this is an opinion born of a sheltered life.


No, it sounds like your opinion is born of a sheltered life. You're probably thinking something along the lines of a job being enriching, fulfilling, etc. Sorry, but that's a minority of workers; for most people, a job is just daily drudgery they do to pay the rent, nothing more. It really is just a transaction where you trade your time for money.


I think you're making the mistake of assuming that everyone else has your work ethic.


Sounds like you're making the exact same mistake.

In reality, where I live, different people have different work ethics. Some people get fulfillment from work, some people have really interesting jobs, while lots of others only work to put food on the table. You really think a hotel maid gets some fulfillment from her job?


Explain that, please. Because I'm with OP. For most people, a job is something you do because you don't want to starve. Please explain your statement, because I think you have it backwards.


30 months in prison is about 11 years of full time work (40h a week, 50 weeks a year). Not only will he be extremely rich but his family and children will never have to work again in their lives. Totally worth it.

If a family member dies while you're in prison you're usually allowed to attend their funeral unless you're an extreme risk.


its not about attending a funeral ... its about not being there with your loved ones. you cant buy that time back...for a million or a billion..time is the most precious asset we own.


I am really, really baffled by this. If you have a full time job, you are quite literally trading the majority of your waking M-F time to be away from your family to earn money. People in the military are deployed and away from their loved ones for months at a time, as are lots of other workers, e.g. oil rig workers.

If he goes to prison now with his whistleblowing money, the whole point is he WON'T need to trade his time for money at all in the future.


"Hey, [Leader of Gang X], there's a $1,000,000 in it if no harm comes to me by the end of my sentence."


I'd easily spend 30 years in prison for 100M. Spending 60 years in a career isn't likely to pay off nearly that well.


There is an insidious aspect with respect to Tech Workers.

You don't need to be a whistle-blower to have a toll on your life/career.

Talk too much shit about a company in Silicon Valley and you're fucked, regardless of the merits of your claims against them.

#TeflonUnicorn


Any data to back up that claim?


Should whistleblowers be entitled to some portion of the fine levied against the offender to offset their losses (and encourage whistleblowing)?


...did you read the article? This is literally one of the main subjects of the article.


He should have moved to Iowa. Under Iowa Code 730, blacklisting has Civil and criminal penalties.


How could an average person actually prove this? Particularly with opaque and/or feeling based decisions?


Maybe we need more patient and stealth activism.


I'd be very grateful for a summary - I'm no fan of these long-form articles.


For me, New Yorker articles are often about the journey, not the destination :)




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