Should one disclose secret government documents whenever it would bring destructive government activities to light? What if the disclosure means that some innocent people may also be harmed?
Should one seek employment or other access to be able to acquire such documents?
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Your original question was more general, so let me start there. The government has a valid purpose and will necessarily need some security and secrecy for particular occasions. Two examples would be military actions, and someone in a witness protection program. Divulging information in either of those cases would mean national security or justice would be compromised, and that would be unethical.
Those examples assumes the government is itself ethical and rights-based, of course. In cases where it isn't, when documents and secrets show that the government is actually violating individual rights or compromising national security, that's the question now.
I think it's similar to other scenarios where someone has the ethical authority to act, but the question of duty and personal consequences have to enter into the decision. How much do you value the integrity and survival of your country (or its principles) over your own personal liberty, for instance? Fortunately most of us don't have to wrestle with that ethical question but in these situations you must, either consciously or not. I don't think a single answer can be given "whenever" the situation may exist.
As your second question implies, it is different for someone if they find themselves in this situation through circumstance vs actively seeking to be in the situation. It seems to have parallels to the ethics of emergencies, which would be a great subject for a a full analysis and essay.
answered Dec 16 '10 at 00:37