Just in time for Christmas: Edward Snowden, the former NSA hand who dominated much of the year’s headlines with his disclosures of data gathering practices of the intelligence agency, undertook a media blitz that included an interview with The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and a brief appearance on the UK’s Channel 4.
It’s hard to overestimate the impact Snowden’s actions have had starting in June when his disclosures were made public. They put U.S. security data gathering practices under the microscope and dragged U.S. tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Verizon onto the hot seat as it became clear that the NSA was getting much of its information from them — wittingly or not. Disclosures that spying may have extended to foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were a huge embarrassment to the Obama administration.
To underscore all that, on December 16, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon issued a ruling that barred “the Government from collecting … any telephony data” from the Verizon account of two citizens who filed the lawsuit, and “requires the Government to destroy any such metadata in its possession that was collected through the bulk collection program.”
Snowden has defended his actions, which some have called treason, as a necessary step to inform the public of what is being done, ostensibly to protect them in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. In short, he said what he did needed to be done to ensure an informed populace.
He told the Post:
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished … I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
In the brief Channel 4 appearance, Snowden reiterated that governments have set up a “system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.”
Invoking George Orwell’s 1984, he warned that the NSA and its analogs abroad have taken away any notion of personal privacy. “A child born today will grow up without any conception of privacy and that’s a problem because privacy matters. It allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”
He continued: “The conversation we have today will determine the amount of trust we have in technology and the government that regulates it.”
His basic message on Channel 4: “Asking is always cheaper than spying.”