Message by Snowden: Privacy Still Matters
by Stephen Castle
LONDON — In a message broadcast Wednesday on British television, Edward J. Snowden, the former American 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,” Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
This month, Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia said the N.S.A.’s mass collection of data was probably unconstitutional. President 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 American counterparts, have also been deeply embarrassed by the revelations, and one of Mr. 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,” Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”
Mr. 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 Mr. Snowden’s brief appearance on Wednesday, which lasted less than two minutes, as his first television 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 Jackson.
Mr. Snowden’s message was filmed and produced by the documentary maker Laura Poitras, Channel 4 said. In a statement, the channel’s director of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, said the information Mr. Snowden had revealed “raises serious questions for democratic society.” She added that his message was “an opportunity for our viewers to hear from him directly and judge for themselves what he has to say.”
By contrast, and in line with tradition, the Christmas Day message from Queen Elizabeth II kept well away from controversy or politics. Reflecting on the birth of her great-grandson, Prince George, the queen said the arrival of a new baby gave people the chance to think about the future with “renewed hope.”