Here’s the interview, “I spy: Edward Snowden in exile,” on the Guardian’s website. The excerpts are in order of their appearance in the post.
He feels the world has got some things wrong about him, but even so he would rather not correct the record publicly. He was exasperated to be marked down as a conservative libertarian, for example (he is, he says, more moderate than has been reported), but declines to be more specific about his actual politics. It would simply alienate some people, he believes.
I’m really curious about Snowden’s political beliefs, but I’ll take ‘not a libertarian’ as kind of a win.
Snowden doesn’t like the haystack metaphor, used exhaustively by politicians and intelligence chiefs in defence of mass data collections. “I would argue that simply using the term ‘haystack’ is misleading. This is a haystack of human lives. It’s all the private records of the most intimate activities, that are aggregated and compiled again and again, and stored for increasing frequencies of time.
Bolding mine. This was just a great line.
“Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility, where they now have access to all your private records. In the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated in any sort of necessary sense – for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation. But they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says, ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way’, and then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people.”
Just in case anyone was unclear: the sharing of nude photos found in people’s private files is not a hypothetical awkward possibility of NSA surveillance, it’s a common, routine part of the job that all of the real people who do that job take part in.
“What last year’s revelations showed us was irrefutable evidence that unencrypted communications on the internet are no longer safe. [...] Journalists have to be particularly conscious about any sort of network signalling; any sort of connection; any sort of licence plate-reading device that they pass on their way to a meeting point; any place they use their credit card; any place they take their phone; any email contact they have with the source. Because that very first contact, before encrypted communications are established, is enough to give it all away.” To journalists, he would add “lawyers, doctors, investigators, possibly even accountants. Anyone who has an obligation to protect the privacy of their clients is facing a new and challenging world.”
I nearly emphasized almost every line in this quote, but I settled on the one that was the reason I copied it over here.
He cites the German Stasi as an organisation staffed by people who thought they were “protecting the stability of their political system, which they considered to be under threat. They were ordinary citizens like anyone else. They believed they were doing the right thing. But when we look at them in historic terms, what were they doing to their people? What were they doing to the countries around them? What was the net impact of their mass, indiscriminate spying campaigns?”
This one in particular just struck me in a really stark, horrifying way. In context of the earlier statements, that the NSA is collecting things like private photos, that metadata is extremely easy to use to draw out a lot of information, and how easy it is for people to walk out of the NSA with data they aren’t technically authorized to take — even if you believe that the government wouldn’t use that kind of database to target closeted LGBTQIAP+ people or people with unpopular religious or political affiliations, which they definitely already do — it looks very, very possible for a differently-motivated individual to hand over life-threatening information to hate groups.
So, that’s one of the things I’m grateful for about the Snowden leaks — that the person who walked out with all that information didn’t post it on 4chan.