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Why TI Germany awarded Edward Snowden with this year’s Whistleblower Prize

Written by Guest on Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Our Executive Director asked in his recent blog post if cases such as Edward Snowden’s are Transparency International’s issue and one of fighting corruption. TI Germany’s Managing Director tells us why he thinks the answer is a clear ‘yes’.

Our Executive Director asked in his recent blog post if cases such as Edward Snowden’s are Transparency International’s issue and one of fighting corruption. TI Germany’s Managing Director tells us why he thinks the answer is a clear ‘yes’.

Last Friday, the Association of German Scientists, the German Section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and Transparency International Germany held an award ceremony for this year’s Whistleblower Prize at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in the heart of Berlin. The prize was given in absence to Edward Joseph Snowden.

TI-UK’s executive director Robert Barrington asked in his recent blog post if this issue is Transparency International’s issue and one of fighting corruption. The clear answer is yes for three reasons:

1. Fighting corruption means supporting whistleblowers. Whistleblowers play an incredibly important role in revealing corruption cases since these often happen in the dark without any witnesses where only insiders can know. This is why Transparency International is operating more than 50 Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers around the globe. There, we do not differentiate if someone is blowing the whistle about a corruption case or about other governmental or organisational wrongdoings. All whistleblowers deserve our support.

Edward Snowden is a whistleblower. He revealed wrongdoing. The NSA already admitted that they spied on thousands of Americans’ emails. This proved that NSA Director Clapper had lied to Congress in March this year. The electronic eavesdropping on Europe the UN and other countries violates the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and an UN-US agreement from 1947 that rules out all undercover operations. These are only some examples, more could be named, also violating basic rights of German citizens. Snowden clearly served the public interest. Snowden did not act for personal gain, but his freedom and his civic existence are permanently threatened. His home country even invalidated his passport, the very notion of citizenship. He fulfills all the principles for whistleblowers which Transparency International laid out in 2009.

2. His revelations very much relate to issues concerning the fight against corruption. The Baltimore Sun reported on 3 December 1995:

“From a commercial communications satellite NSA lifted all the faxes and phone calls between the European consortium Airbus, the Saudi national airline and the Saudi government. The agency found that Airbus agents were offering bribes to a Saudi official. It passed the information to U.S. Officials pressing the bid of Boeing Co. and McDonnell Douglas Corp., which triumphed last year in the $6 billion competition.“

Years later, James Woolsey, former head of the CIA admitted in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal on 17 March 2000 the spying. He wrote:

“Yes, my continental friends, we have spied on you. And it’s true that we use computers to sort through data by using keywords. Have you stopped to ask yourselves what we’re looking for? […] That’s right, my continental friends, we have spied on you because you bribe. Your companies’ products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than your American competitors’. As a result you bribe a lot. […] When we have caught you at it, you might be interested, we haven’t said a word to the U.S. companies in the competition. Instead we go to the government you’re bribing and tell its officials that we don’t take kindly to such corruption.”

To misuse these total surveillance methods for the fight against corruption needs a clear and determined response from civil society. Edda Müller, chair of Transparency Germany, put it clearly in her address at the whistleblower award ceremony:

“We do not want a fight at all costs and reject the reasoning of former CIA head Woolsey. We do not want and we cannot win the fight against corruption, when total surveillance is used to violate basic rights to gain economic advantages. Furthermore we cannot make the world a safer place and protect our people better when we disregard personal rights and trample values – among them press freedom – which constitute the identity of our societies and political system.“

3. Press freedom has been seriously curbed in the UK when the Guardian was asked to destroy hard drives with allegedly leaked data. The pure symbolism of this act considering that the data is stored somewhere else anyway, shows either the incompetence or probably worse, the pure will of intimidation. Transparency International conducted last year a comprehensive study of national integrity systems across the European Union. Of the main pillars serving integrity in a country one is a free press. The latest news from the UK is rather disturbing in this regard.

Snowden’s engagement for the right to privacy is closely linked to Transparency’s fight against corruption. We owe him. He also reminds us of the responsibility we have when we offer potential whistleblowers our guidance through our above mentioned Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers. He showed us what capabilities governments could have these days.

Edward Snowden’s commitment to defend privacy deserves our respect and our support:

  • Read the statement of grounds of the jury.
  • Watch the laudation of Glenn Greenwald from the award ceremony
  • Watch Jacob Appelbaum reading Edward Snowden’s response at the award ceremony.
  • Read Deutsche Welle’s report on the award ceremony.


Christian Humborg is Managing Director of Transparency International Germany.




Read 13935 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47


The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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