“I’m mad that they stole what I stole first”

Earlier, I posted about some of the various issues raised in the conviction of Bradley “Chelsea” Manning for his involvement in Wikileaks and the ongoing pursuit of Edward Snowden, a central figure in exposing the fact that the NSA has been spying on US citizens.
A New York Post columnist, John Podhoretz, insists that the bottom line is “the Snowden material was stolen.” Podhoretz focuses on the fact that contemporary technology makes it more convenient to steal “intellectual property” than, say, carrying a stack of thousands of floppy disks or thousands of file folders, but says it is still “theft.” This raises several questions related to whether what Manning or Snowden did constitutes “theft.”
One problem that has arisen with the Internet, kind of parallel to the Manning and Snowden cases, is that of people who steal pre-release products from factories in China or wherever, then sell them on EBay. I’m aware of this in the toy industry, but I’m sure it happens with appliances, electronics, etc. Others buy these pre-release items for exorbitant sums, usually to be the first to post reviews of them on their blogs and reap the rewards of ad revenue. A few years back, when I was more active in following such matters, there was a bit of a row in the Transformers community about a collector/blogger who was mad that someone hacked into his account and “stole” his pictures of the “prototype” he had bought on Ebay and planned to write about, thus “scooping” his “scoop.” In other words, the guy was mad that someone else “stole” his photos of “stolen” property that he had bought illegally. This is is Pat Buchanan’s take on the matter of Snowden: the government is mad that Snowden “stole” information that the government itself “stole” to begin with!
Is it really theft to steal something back that was stolen to begin with? I honestly don’t know, but that’s certainly a question to ponder.
Was it “theft” for a tobacco company researcher to reveal to the press and in court that the tobacco companies were adding Coumarin, a known carcinogen, to cigarettes? What about the corporate scandals of a decade ago–ENRON, Tyco, etc.–and the “whistleblowers” who “stole” “company secrets” to expose corruption? What about the “theft of information” that has led to the exposure of cover-ups of priestly misconduct within the Church?
While the Vatican has certainly had its own controversy surrounding Wikileaks, and seems to have come down harder on the whistleblowers than on those engaging in the corruption they exposed, some of the same issues are involved. I’m raising these questions for discussion and offering no certain conclusions:
1) Does leaking “private” information about a corrupt governmental bureaucracy constitute a sin against the 8th Commandment, when there is no other recourse? For example, Vatican officials have claimed that the allegations made in the media during the “VatiLeaks” scandal were exaggerated, though Pope Benedict reportedly had the results of his internal audit read to the college of cardinals before the election of his successor, and Pope Francis has since confirmed (albeit, again, in a talk that was “leaked”) the existence of a “gay lobby” at the Vatican.
2) Does such leaking of information constitute a violation of the 7th Commandment?
For example, there’s the question I touched on in my previous post on the subject: are “we” the “enemies” of the government? Regardless of the particulars of how Manning and Snowden did what they did, the result was revealing to “the people” secrets of “the government” via “the Press,” which would seem to be the essence of what our Constitution is about: reminding the “Government” that it works for “us.” Doesn’t information that “belongs” to the CIA or the military ultimately “belong” to the people?
If the shareholders are the real owners of a company, and an employee reveals information about corruption in the company to the shareholders, is that really “theft”?
How do “we the People” keep tabs on “them the Government,” who supposedly work for us, if not for people like Manning and Snowden who are willing to divulge “government secrets” to the press? The use of flash drives certainly makes it more convenient for someone like Glenn Greenwald versus the lengthy investigations of Woodward and Bernstein, but are Snowden and Manning any more traitors or thieves than Mark Felt?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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One response to ““I’m mad that they stole what I stole first”

  1. Information is information. How can it be stolen when it is simply information? If “our” government is of, by and for us, then it is our information. No? Patent laws and intellectual property laws are monopoly creators. One current function of government, I posit, is to create and maintain monopolies. The government itself is a monopoly on force and many other things. Keeping a stranglehold on “intellectual property” stifles innovation and in turn a better society. It keeps power in hands of a few to offer services and things at greater and greater prices.

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