EDWARD SNOWDEN: We’ve already changed culture. We can discuss things now that five years back, if you had brought them up in a serious conversation, would have gotten you sort of labelled as a conspiracy theorist or someone who really was a—was not really thinking about what governments reasonably are likely to do. Now, the danger of this is that we’re always living in a circumstance where governments go a little bit further than what any public would approve of if we knew the full details of government.
Now that we’ve established at least the bare facts of what’s going on in the arena of our basic liberties, what happens as we transit through a city, as we talk to our friends, as we we engage with family, as we browse books online, all of these things are being tracked, they’re being intercepted, they’re being recorded. They’re being indexed into a sort of surveillance time machine that allows institutions that hold great powers, whether they are public institutions, whether they’re private institutions, such as corporations—they’re empowering themselves at the expense of the public.
Now, we’re beginning to shift from that cultural, necessary change, where we brought awareness of what’s really happening, into a point where we need to think about what the actual proposals that we’re going to put forth are going to be. We need to change not just the facts that we’re aware of, but the facts of the policies that we’re going to live under. And some people would be encouraged, saying we’ve made improvements. There have been the first and most important legal reforms in the surveillance arena domestically within the United States passed in nearly 40 years. But if you ask anyone who studies the actual legislation, they’ll agree that they’re a first step. They don’t go anywhere near far enough.
And as was just mentioned, we see that in many countries around the world governments are aggressively pressing for more power, more authority, more surveillance rather than less. And this is not just in foreign states. This is not just in what we would consider traditional adversary states such as, you know, Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, whoever you’re really afraid of. It’s not just people who are different from us. This has happened in Australia, where they now have mandatory retention of everyone’s data without regard to whether they’re involved in any sort of criminal activity or if they’ve even fallen under any sort of criminal suspicion. We see the same proposals put forth and adopted in Canada. We see the same thing occurring in the United Kingdom. We’ve seen the same thing pass in France.
And what’s extraordinary about this is that, in every case, these policy proposals that work against the public are being billed as public safety programs. But when we look at the facts, for example, in the United States, even if you’re not aware of or you don’t believe the reports that have been shown in the newspaper based on classified documents that show governments are engaging in the broad, massive and indiscriminate collection of data on every citizen’s lives, you can see that governments have confirmed things, they’ve declassified them through their own documents, and they’ve done investigations to discover: Are these programs, now that they’ve been declassified, now that we can discuss them, are they really valuable? Do they really keep us safe?
And despite two independent investigations appointed by the White House, that are, again, allies of these institutions and have every incentive to sort of whitewash these programs and say they’re wonderful, have in fact said that upon—upon reviewing all available evidence, even classified evidence, after interviewing the directors of the National Security Agency and so on and so forth, they’ve seen that these programs actually don’t save lives. Mass surveillance, by their own quotes, has never made a concrete difference in a single terrorism investigation in the United States.
There was one case where the mass surveillance of everyone’s phone records in the United States of America showed that there was a single cab driver in California wiring money back to his clan in Somalia that did have some ties to terrorism, but even in that case, the government said they could have achieved—and they would have achieved—the same evidentiary gain through traditional targeted means of investigation. They said they were already closing in on this individual.
And so, this raises the question: Why are programs being billed as public safety programs when they have no corresponding public safety benefit? And the unfortunate reality is that while these programs do have value—you know, the government is not doing this for absolutely no reason—the value that they have is based on intelligence collection. It’s based on adversarial competition between states that’s happening secretly. It’s happening without any form of robust oversight. It’s happening without the involvement of real open courts with an adversarial process.
And increasingly, we’re seeing that even if these programs are instituted with the best of intentions—to keep citizens safe, to assist in war zone operations, in the intervention of terrorism in certain spaces around the United States and throughout the world—inevitably they come back to impact us here at home. The same programs that the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency collaborated on in areas like Yemen are now being used by the United States Marshals Service in the United States against common criminals, people who do not represent any real threat to public safety in a manner that would justify in any way the intrusion into and the violation of millions and millions of citizens’ rights—and noncitizens.
And unfortunately, this trend is continuing. If you open The Washington Post just today, you’ll see that the Obama administration was secretly exploring new ways to bypass the technological protections of our privacy in the devices that surround us every day. Now, this is what we confront today. This is not a problem exclusive to the United States or the National Security Agency or the FBI or the Department of Justice or any agency of government anywhere. This is a global problem that affects all of us. What’s happening here happens in France, it happens in the U.K., it happens in every country, in every place, to every person. And what we have to do is we have to have a discussion. We have to come forward with proposals, to go, “How do we assert what our rights are, traditionally and digitally, and ensure that we not just can enjoy them, but we can protect them, we can rely upon them, and we can count on our representatives of government to defend these rights rather than working against them?”
And with that, I’ll turn it over to David Miranda. Thank you very much for the invitation to speak.