SOX for Snowden?

Quick Recap

Edward Snowden, a former member of the U.S. intelligence community, released classified government data to the public in 2013.  He faces prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act, remains on the run from the U.S. government and ended up seeking asylum in Moscow, Russia.

The 1.3 million documents he released are the largest known security breach in U.S. history.  They also unveiled highly questionable if not outright illegal action by US intelligence agencies relating to widespread spying domestically and abroad.

Traitor or Patriot?

In the light of an exclusive interview with NBC News on May 28, 2014, the popular NBC “Today” show asked its viewers in a polarizing poll to decide for themselves whether Snowden was a “Traitor” or a “Patriot.”  The morning before the interview aired, 53% of viewers saw Snowden as a “traitor”. The morning after, 61% found him a “patriot.”  Though the responses do not necessarily reflect a representative sample of the U.S. population, let’s go with it for now, since an interesting majority swing took place in favor of Snowden’s action.

We are not going deeper into whether or not Snowden did the right thing or not.  His disclosures spurred and continue to fuel a worldwide discussion on where the boundaries are for covert operations and government surveillance programs.  It’s not a new question and comes down to the ancient question the Roman poet Juvenal famously raised:  “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or “Who guards the guards?”

Apparently, the continued decisions of U.S. secret courts approving intelligence programs of the disputed nature did not resonate with the viewers.  If Snowden was tried under the U.S. Espionage Act, the public may never hear of Snowden again nor details of his prosecution with most certain conviction.  The covered surveillance programs may continue without meaningful oversight.

It makes Secretary John Kerry’s strong request sound weak and questionable for Snowden to face U.S. authorities and trust the legal system.  Continued messages from high-ranking politicians up to President Barack Obama himself depict Snowden as a “low-ranking analyst” and “high school drop-out.”  – Doesn’t this makes you wonder how such an acclaimed  ‘bum’ got access to such large amounts of sensitive government information in the first place and who else is granted ‘Top Secret” security clearance, which is shared by 1 million(!) Americans?

SOX for Government Employees and Contractors?

Countering illegal practices by companies let the U.S. Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in 2002.  While SOX overhauls regulatory standards for record keeping practices, it -perhaps- became more known to the public for protecting employees of publicly traded companies from discrimination who report violations of regulations by the company.  Every major business now has a process in place to ensure SOX is enforced effectively.

However, SOX only covers publicly traded companies in order to protect shareholders from fraud.  What about the public sector, namely the government?  Shouldn’t there be a similar ruling that effectively protects government employees and contractors, such as Edward Snowden, when they witness and wish to report apparent illegal actions by government institutions?

Check and Balances? (source: en.wikipedia.com)
Where are the “Checks and Balances”?
(source: en.wikipedia.com)

Checks and Balances

Snowden claimed that he repeatedly approached his manager raising concerns and was told to shut up.  Certainly, national security interests must be protected and safeguarded by the clandestine functions of government.  But then, again, who guards the guards, when “national security” becomes an obscure blanket excuse without an effective system of checks and balances that the U.S. Constitution mandates and the United States are founded on?

The Snowden affair made painfully clear that the existing legal parameters for governmental “whistle blowers” are insufficient to non-existent.  How else would the public have found out about the abuse of governmental power?  Going public and risking prosecution, currently, appears to remain the only viable option to truly allow and push for effective checks and balances until legislation catches up with a SOX for future Snowdens in order to keep our democracy working for the people.

Author: Stephan Klaschka

Stephan Klaschka is an awarded innovation executive, C-level consultant, Intrapreneur, and serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of international work experience. He held various senior business operations, strategy, regulatory compliance and innovation roles with Boehringer Ingelheim, leaving as Director of Global Innovation Management and Strategy. In this first-of-its-kind position, Stephan's work was central to the new growth rejuvenation strategy as a catalyst to initiate and drive pivotal innovations, leadership development, and disruptive and digital transformation across the Boehringer Ingelheim group worldwide. He has recently served as CEO interim of the "German Institute for Telemedicine and Health Promotion" (DITG). Stephan holds Masters Degrees in Computer Science, Management, and Business Administration as well as advanced degrees in Strategy, Innovation, and Leadership from leading schools in Europe and the United States. PMP certified. He has published extensively and created award-winning workshops on topics including intrapreneurship, healthcare, pharma, and new technologies. Stephan currently consults independently out of New York.

3 thoughts on “SOX for Snowden?”

  1. Stephan – Great post. Much to think about here. The knock on SOX is that too few CEOs and CFOs have been prosecuted despite the legislation having teeth. Did misconduct end? I doubt it. The incidents of malfeasance seem to be fewer and farther between .. or are we just looking the other way .. and the news media has lost interest?

    This article has a good perspective as of the 10 year SOX anniversary “Sarbanes-Oxley’s lost promise: Why CEOs haven’t been prosecuted” http://blogs.reuters.com/alison-frankel/2012/07/27/sarbanes-oxleys-lost-promise-why-ceos-havent-been-prosecuted/

  2. Thanks, Craig, excellent point and thanks for the link! While the world is not perfect, it seems better to have regulation in place over not having regulations at all. The apparent lack of SOX enforcement is sad but something that can be fixed. Let’s just wait for the next big scandal followed by the public media outcry to get SOX moving again…

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