LOPSA Statement Regarding System Administrator Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, who worked in the field of system administration, claims to be a person who passed classified documents to reporters about US surveillance programs. System administrators often have access to important and confidential data in their normal work duties and may face ethical dilemmas because of this knowledge.

This is similar to a member of the US Armed Forces swearing an oath to obey all legal orders of their superiors or a member of the clergy keeping in confidence all who they counsel within their order. The military require that illegal activity be challenged and reported and clergy might encourage reporting of the crime as a form of penance for the one that committed the crime.
Who are System Administrators?
System Administrators are the people who make computer technology work for people and organizations. When you use email, look at a web site, make a phone call, purchase something with your credit card, or drive a new car you are using computer technology that a system administrator helped design, implement and maintain. We work closely with software developers to make computer technology work well for everyone.
System Administrators' Ethics
For System Administrators with access to data, The System Administrators' Code of Ethics (https://lopsa.org/CodeOfEthics) aims to provide high level guidance on behavior and motivation for a variety of concepts, including confidentiality. This code similarly balances the confidentiality of the systems that IT administrators manage and the IT administrators' responsibility to the public.
System Administrators must make a wide variety of judgment calls that depend greatly upon the nature of their position. Those judgment calls are dependent upon the seriousness of the situation and help inform how the illegal or unethical activity is reported.  Some of the reporting considerations include whether there is an available internal reporting structure, a requirement to use the internal procedures, or if a higher legal authority is deemed necessary due to the nature of the report. To again compare to both the military and clergy situations, they must be prepared for serious investigation and personal consequences based upon their actions and strive to not follow something wrong with a wrong of their own.
For more information about LOPSA or Systems Administration, please contact LOPSA at info at lopsa.org.
The League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA) is a nonprofit corporation with members throughout the world. Our mission is to advance the practice of system administration; to support, recognize, educate, and encourage its practitioners; and to serve the public through education and outreach on system administration issues.