Two years since he met with a trio of journalists in a Hong Kong hotel room and explained for the first time why he leaked some of the NSA's most closely-guarded secrets about its global surveillance empire, whistleblower Edward Snowden has penned an op-ed for the New York Times declaring relief that his decision was not in vain and championed those who have picked up the fight against the expansive practices of the world's most powerful intelligence agencies.
"As a society, we rediscover that the value of a right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects." —Edward SnowdenThough recognizing that he and the key journalists that assisted him—including Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald—put their own "privileged lives at risk" by bringing the documents to the world, Snowden said his initial worries that the world would respond with "indifference, or practiced cynicism" to the information they contained were fortunately not realized.
"Never have I been so grateful to have been so wrong," Snowden writes. "Two years on, the difference is profound. In a single month, the N.S.A.’s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress. After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated."
Earlier this week, thanks to the firestorm created since the public first became aware of its existence, one of the most contested portions of the NSA's domestic surveillance—the bulk collection of American's phone records—was put to an end. But for Snowden, the impact and power of what he describes as an "informed public" has—like the NSA operations themselves—had truly global reach.
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"Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every [American] citizen," Snowden writes, "but it is only the latest product of a change in global awareness. Since 2013, institutions across Europe have ruled similar laws and operations illegal and imposed new restrictions on future activities. The United Nations declared mass surveillance an unambiguous violation of human rights. In Latin America, the efforts of citizens in Brazil led to the Marco Civil, an Internet Bill of Rights. Recognizing the critical role of informed citizens in correcting the excesses of government, the Council of Europe called for new laws to protect whistle-blowers."
But even with that progress, he warns the need for much deeper reform remains. According to Snowden:
Though we have come a long way, the right to privacy — the foundation of the freedoms enshrined in the United States Bill of Rights — remains under threat. Some of the world’s most popular online services have been enlisted as partners in the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs, and technology companies are being pressured by governments around the world to work against their customers rather than for them. Billions of cellphone location records are still being intercepted without regard for the guilt or innocence of those affected. We have learned that our government intentionally weakens the fundamental security of the Internet with “back doors” that transform private lives into open books. Metadata revealing the personal associations and interests of ordinary Internet users is still being intercepted and monitored on a scale unprecedented in history: As you read this online, the United States government makes a note.
Despite his continued political asylum status in Russia, where he continues to speak and work on issues related to digital privacy and civil liberties, Snowden argues that the people of the world have made a collective declaration against the need for mass surveillance and the various tangled programs operated by the NSA, the UK's GCHQ, and the other powerful agencies of the 'Five Eyes' nations and others.
"Yet the balance of power is beginning to shift," he concludes. "We are witnessing the emergence of a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy. For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor of resilience and reason. With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover that the value of a right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects."