Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


Filmmaker Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. (Image: via The New School)

'Privacy Critical to Human Freedom': Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald Talk NSA

Though Snowden telecommuted, conversation hosted by New York Times brings together trio that revealed vast secretive surveillance network to global public

Jon Queally

During a unique conversation hosted by the New School and the New York Times on Thursday, the three people most responsible for bringing the story of mass global surveillance programs orchestrated by the U.S. National Security Agency were brought together for the first time since they first met in a Hong Kong hotel in 2013.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald sat with the New York Times media columnist David Carr on stage while the whistleblower himself, Edward Snowden, appeared via videolink from Russia where he remains under asylum protection.

"Yes, governments possess extraordinary powers—but at the end of the day there are more of us than there are of them." —Edward SnowdenCitizenFour, the documentary film by Poitras which tells the story of Snowden and the NSA revelations he first entrusted to her and then Greenwald has now won numerous awards and been nominated for the upcoming Acadamy Awards. Discussing both the making of the film and her investigation into the world of NSA surveillance, Poitras described how once you recognize how "pernicious and ominous" the world created by the NSA has become, "it does give you that sense of not being able to sleep" because you come to understand "how deep these powers go."

Greenwald, who along with his colleagues at the Guardian, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Snowden documents, said during the talk, "The realm of privacy is critical to human freedom, to political activism and is something that we've always sought out."

Rejecting the idea that "only people who have something to hide" should be worried about government surveillance, Greenwald continued by arguing that what those people are saying "is that 'I've agreed to turn myself into such a submissive, pliant, uninteresting person that I actually don't think the government is interested in me.' That in itself is an extraordinary damage—that you accept that bargain or that that bargain even exists. But I think for all of us, just the knowledge that we might be watched at any given moment is very psychologically damaging," for individual people and for society as a whole.

On why the revelations have touched such a nerve around the world and why he tends to sleep well at night despite the situation he now finds himself in, Snowden said, "The reality is that people care about our ability to communicate and associate without being monitored and judged based on private activities. And as long as we have that, we will win regardless of the efforts against us."

He continued, "When it comes down it—and, yes, governments possess extraordinary powers—but at the end of the day there are more of us than there are of them. And as long as we work together and as long as we value our rights, we will be able to protect them and assert them."

In a sad twist, Mr. Carr, a book author and long-celebrated staff writer for the Times, died just hours after hosting the event, making his discussion with Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald his final public appearance and very last piece of journalistic work.

Watch the conversation:

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·

Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·

Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·

US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·

40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo