Princeton University Library Catalog

Veni, Vidi, Verum Dixi: The Role of the Right to Know in American Democracy

Connelly, Louise [Browse]
Senior thesis
Gellman, Barton [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
126 pages
Summary note:
This thesis examines the fundamental, yet sometimes conflicting, concerns in what has been one of the most important debates for American democracy: the tradeoff between protecting national security and defending the public’s right to know. In doing so, it examines a case of particular importance to the question on both policy and theoretical levels: whistleblower leaks to the press. On a policy level, this tension has come to public attention recently with what free press advocates have cited as a “crackdown” by the Obama administration on whistleblower leaks and the journalists who expose them. This apparent trend towards secrecy has sparked debate on a national scale over the proper policy to govern leaks in the United States. The decision over whether to prosecute a leak case requires a consideration of the question posed on the outset of this thesis: to what extent should government secrecy be balanced with the right to know? Although the question has been identified on both political and academic platforms, very rarely is it put into practice. This thesis will attempt to show how it could be done. Through a rigorous effort to apply the question to two of the biggest cases of leak charges in the history of the United States—Daniel Ellsberg’s 1971 Pentagon Papers leak, and Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance programs—this thesis will attempt to illustrate what the balancing of potential harms and benefits from a leak could look like. On a theoretical level, this thesis will examine the role of whistleblowers in democracy. It will argue that the right to know, as a critical component to the functioning of representative democracies, not only motivates the activities of whistleblowers, but also legitimizes them.