Snowden: 'Surveillance of the Public Must Be Debated by the Public'

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by
Common Dreams

Snowden: 'Surveillance of the Public Must Be Debated by the Public'

Honored as top 'Global Thinker,' whistleblower says 'dragnet surveillance is not a mark of progress, but a problem to be solved'

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Portrait of Edward Snowden by artist Robert Shetterly. (Credit: AmericansWhoTellTheTruth.org)

In a new statement available to the public, Edward Snowden says that one of the clearest lessons to be taken from what the world has come to know about the reach of the national security state is that "surveillance of the public must be debated by the public."

Though snubbed for TIME magazine 'person-of-the-year' honors this week, the NSA whistleblower remains the single individual who many regard as the hands-down most important individual when it comes to disrupting the national security state since it converged with the digital revolution in the aftermath of 9/11 and the onset of the so-called 'global war on terror.'

At a Wednesday evening reception in Washington, DC, the thirty-year-old former surveillance contractor was honored by Foreign Policy magazine by being placed at the #1 spot on its annual list of 100 Leading Global Thinkers (interactive).

"Today we stand at the crossroads of policy, where parliaments and presidents on every continent are grappling with how to bring meaningful oversight to the darkest corners of our national security bureaucracies," Snowden said in remarks prepared for the occasion. "The stakes are high. James Madison warned that our freedoms are most likely to be abridged by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power. I bet my life on the idea that together, in the light of day, we can find a better balance."

According to Foreign Policy, Snowden was chosen for special note not just because he has become "the public face of an international debate over surveillance," but because his actions have had enormous and verifiable international impact, including compelling "foreign governments targeted by U.S. spying to seek a U.N. resolution about the rights of individuals to retain their privacy on the Internet."

"We've learned that we've allowed technological capabilities to dictate policies and practices, rather than ensuring that our laws and values guide our technological capabilities." –Edward Snowden

Also honored in the top five were Glenn Greenwald (#3) and Laura Poitras (#4), the two journalists most responsible for bringing the leaked documents provided by Snowden to the international public. Book-ending those two were NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander (#2), who the magazine credited with "masterminding the surveillance state"--and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (#5), who was noted for "confronting Washington and its spies" after revelations showed the NSA had spied on her private calls and email.

Still in Russia, under temporary asylum protection, Snowden was unable to receive his honor in person, but his statement was delivered to the FP audience through an intermediate.

In fact, Jesselyn Radack, director of the Government Accountability Project's national security & human rights project—who was also placed in the top ten of the FP Global Thinkers—delivered the remarks on Snowden's behalf.

The full statement sent by Snowden, and delivered by Radack, follows:

It's an honor to address you tonight. I apologize for being unable to attend in person, but I’ve been having a bit of passport trouble. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras also regrettably could not accept their invitations. As it turns out, revealing matters of "legitimate concern" nowadays puts you on the list for more than "Global Thinker" awards.

2013 has been an important year for civil society. As we look back on the events of the past year and their implications for the state of surveillance within the United States and around the world, I suspect we will remember this year less for the changes in policies that are sure to come, than for changing our minds. In a single year, people from Indonesia to Indianapolis have come to realize that dragnet surveillance is not a mark of progress, but a problem to be solved.

We've learned that we've allowed technological capabilities to dictate policies and practices, rather than ensuring that our laws and values guide our technological capabilities. And take notice: this awareness, and these sentiments, are held most strongly among the young – those with lifetimes of votes ahead of them.

Even those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls should agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public. No official may decide the limit of our rights in secret.

Today we stand at the crossroads of policy, where parliaments and presidents on every continent are grappling with how to bring meaningful oversight to the darkest corners of our national security bureaucracies. The stakes are high. James Madison warned that our freedoms are most likely to be abridged by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power. I bet my life on the idea that together, in the light of day, we can find a better balance.

I'm grateful to Foreign Policy Magazine and the many others helping to expose those encroachments and to end that silence.

Thank you.

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