Under the Guise of National Security: Surveillance, Snowden and the Challenges to Democracy

Arndt Aguilar, Niels Daniel, Carl Windahl Bøllingtoft, Caroline Elmquist-Clausen, Peren Helvacı, Stinne Friis Vognæs & Roxanne Genest

Studenteropgave: Semesterprojekt


Abstract This project examines the case of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden and aims to answer how the US government reacted to his leaks about surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA), and how this has raised a debate on the legitimacy of the current democratic society. After 9/11 we saw a shift in the attitude of the United States towards the issue of national security. The new fear of terrorism on American soil, and former president George W. Bush’s “war on terror”, resulted in an increase of the authority and remedies granted government offices and agencies by the US state. Especially the extent to which surveillance became an accepted measure to help preventing future terrorist attacks, increased. Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, revealed this extensive use of surveillance by the US government and specifically the NSA in June 2013 by leaking classified documents to the press. This has lead to a worldwide debate on violation of personal privacy and the democratic legitimacy of the US government’s actions. The project analyses the actions of the US government during and after the Snowden-leaks, using the theory of Neorealism, Ulrich Beck’s theory of world risk society, and the concept of fear cultures. The government’s possible violation of democratic rights, the public reaction to the disclosures and Edward Snowden’s motivation for leaking the documents will be examined within the framework of the theory of deliberative democracy. Finally the project discusses the threats that democracy and civil rights are facing in the wake of Snowden’s revelations and why we have turned the blind eye to the seemingly undemocratic development in exchange for the promise of security. The conclusion is that the US government have been staging Snowden as a risk for the US national security in order to legitimise NSA’s surveillance programs. The US government can be seen as acting from a neorealist basis when perceiving Snowden as a traitor in order to reduce the consequences of the information leaked and to minimize their loss of relative power and the damage inflicted on their current power position. Snowden can be seen as acting in defence of the deliberative democracy, judging the documents to be in the interest of the public; without access to full information there can be no deliberation. The leaks revealed how the government is violating the individual citizen’s democratic rights under the guise of national security. In order to secure this privacy, we must hold the state accountable for its actions, but to do so we need full access to information. Snowden shed light on this problem in the democratic society today, and his leaks have made the public aware of their responsibility to demand transparency.

UddannelserGlobal Studies, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Bachelor el. kandidat
Udgivelsesdato9 jan. 2014
VejlederePeter Nielsen


  • Transparency
  • Fear culture
  • Purple dragon
  • Edward Snowden
  • Beck
  • Chomsky
  • Castells
  • Democracy
  • Habermas
  • bluered
  • Legitimacy
  • NSA
  • National security