Update: see previous posts – November 9, 2013 Canada: The Nation’s Electronic Watchers Enjoy Secrecy Second to None, April 2, 2012 United Kingdom Planning on Conducting Nationwide Electronic Surveillance On Everyone, September 14, 2011 In-Car Video Cams – Toronto Police
In a message broadcast Wednesday on British television, Edward J. Snowden, the former U.S. security contractor, urged an end to mass surveillance, arguing that the electronic monitoring he has exposed surpasses anything imagined by George Orwell in 1984, a dystopian vision of an all-knowing state.
“A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all,” Snowden said in a Christmas Day message shown by Channel 4. “They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.”
“Privacy matters; privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be,” he said.
Snowden, 30, remains in Moscow, where the Russian government granted him temporary asylum rather than extraditing him to the United States following his leak of information about the National Security Agency’s extensive electronic surveillance programs. The Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against him in June, alleging that he had violated the United States’ Espionage Act and stolen government property.
Earlier this month, Judge Richard J. Leon of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the NSA’s mass collection of data was probably unconstitutional. President Barack Obama appointed an advisory committee of outside experts to review the agency’s operations; it issued a report last week that recommended curbing the agency’s data collection.
Britain’s security services, which work closely with their U.S. counterparts, have also been deeply embarrassed by the revelations, and one of Snowden’s more striking comments in the broadcast refers to 1984, Orwell’s celebrated novel about a state controlled by an omnipresent Big Brother.
“Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information,” Snowden said. “The types of collection in the book – microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us – are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.”
But he also argued that his actions had set off a debate that could help restore faith in those who regulate electronic communications.
“The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it,” Snowden said. “Together, we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.”
Snowden has spoken out publicly before, and his latest comments are in line with others he made this week. In a lengthy interview with The Washington Post, he said he had achieved what he set out to do.
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “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.”
Channel 4 described Snowden’s brief appearance Wednesday, which lasted less than two minutes, as his first TV interview since arriving in Moscow, though the format is a televised statement as the station’s alternative Christmas message to the queen’s annual holiday broadcast. In the 20 years since it began its tradition, Channel 4 has commissioned a variety of outspoken public figures, including the former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.