Authors: Edward Snowden
Still, if we don’t act to reclaim our data now, our children might not be able to do so. Then they, and their children, will be trapped too—each successive generation forced to live under the data specter of the previous one, subject to a mass aggregation of information whose potential for societal control and human manipulation exceeds not just the restraints of the law but the limits of the imagination.
Who among us can predict the future? Who would dare to? The answer to the first question is no one, really, and the answer to the second is everyone, especially every government and business on the planet. This is what that data of ours is used for. Algorithms analyze it for patterns of established behavior in order to extrapolate behaviors to come, a type of digital prophecy that’s only slightly more accurate than analog methods like palm reading. Once you go digging into the actual technical mechanisms by which predictability is calculated, you come to understand that its science is, in fact, anti-scientific, and fatally misnamed: predictability is actually manipulation. A website that tells you that because you liked this book you might also like books by James Clapper or Michael Hayden isn’t offering an educated guess as much as a mechanism of subtle coercion.
We can’t allow ourselves to be used in this way, to be used against the future. We can’t permit our data to be used to sell us the very things that must not be sold, such as journalism. If we do, the journalism we get will be merely the journalism we want, or the journalism that the powerful want us to have, not the hon
est collective conversation that’s necessary. We can’t let the godlike surveillance we’re under be used to “calculate” our citizenship scores, or to “predict” our criminal activity; to tell us what kind of education we can have, or what kind of job we can have, or whether we can have an education or a job at all; to discriminate against us based on our financial, legal, and medical histories, not to mention our ethnicity or race, which are constructs that data often assumes or imposes. And as for our most intimate data, our genetic information: if we allow it to be used to identify us, then it will be used to victimize us, even to modify us—to remake the very essence of our humanity in the image of the technology that seeks its control.
Of course, all of the above has already happened.
day has passed since August 1, 2013, in which I don’t recall that “exile” was what my teenage self used to call getting booted off-line. The Wi-Fi died? Exile. I’m out of signal range? Exile. The self who used to say that now seems so young to me. He seems so distant.
When people ask me what my life is like now, I tend to answer that it’s a lot like theirs in that I spend a lot of time in front of the computer—reading, writing, interacting. From what the press likes to describe as an “undisclosed location”—which is really just whatever two-bedroom apartment in Moscow I happen to be renting—I beam myself onto stages around the world, speaking about the protection of civil liberties in the digital age to audiences of students, scholars, lawmakers, and technologists.
Some days I take virtual meetings with my fellow board members at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, or talk with my European legal team, led by Wolfgang Kaleck, at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. Other days, I just pick up some Burger King—I know where my loyalties lie—and play games I have to pirate because I can no longer use credit cards. One fixture of my existence is my daily check-in with my
American lawyer, confidant, and all-around consigliere Ben Wizner at the ACLU, who has been my guide to the world as it is and puts up with my musings about the world as it should be.
That’s my life. It got significantly brighter during the freezing winter of 2014, when Lindsay came to visit—the first time I’d seen her since Hawaii. I tried not to expect too much, because I knew I didn’t deserve the chance; the only thing I deserved was a slap in the face. But when I opened the door, she placed her hand on my cheek and I told her I loved her.
“Hush,” she said, “I know.”
We held each other in silence, each breath like a pledge to make up for lost time.
From that moment, my world was hers. Previously, I’d been content to hang around indoors—indeed, that was my preference before I was in Russia—but Lindsay was insistent: she’d never been to Russia and now we were going to be tourists together.
My Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, who helped me get asylum in the country—he was the only lawyer who had the foresight to show up at the airport with a translator—is a cultured and resourceful man, and he proved as adept at obtaining last-minute tickets to the opera as he is at navigating my legal issues. He helped arrange two box seats at the Bolshoi Theater, so Lindsay and I got dressed and went, though I have to admit I was wary. There were so many people, all packed so tightly into a hall. Lindsay could sense my growing unease. As the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, she leaned over, nudged me in the ribs, and whispered, “None of these people are here for you. They’re here for this.”
Lindsay and I also spent time at some of Moscow’s museums. The Tretyakov Gallery contains one of the world’s richest collection of Russian Orthodox icon paintings. The artists who made these paintings for the Church were essentially contractors, I thought, and so were typically not allowed to sign their names to their handiwork, or preferred not to. The time and tradition that fostered these works was not given much to recognizing individual achievement. As Lindsay and I stood in front of one of the icons,
a young tourist, a teenage girl, suddenly stepped between us. This wasn’t the first time I was recognized in public, but given Lindsay’s presence, it certainly threatened to be the most headline-worthy. In German-accented English, the girl asked whether she could take a selfie with us. I’m not sure what explains my reaction—maybe it was this German girl’s shy and polite way of asking, or maybe it was Lindsay’s always mood-improving, live-and-let-live presence—but without hesitation, for once, I agreed. Lindsay smiled as the girl posed between us and took a photo. Then, after a few sweet words of support, she departed.
I dragged Lindsay out of the museum a moment later. I was afraid that if the girl posted the photo to social media we could be just minutes away from unwanted attention. I feel foolish now for thinking that. I kept nervously checking online, but the photo didn’t appear. Not that day, and not the day after. As far as I can tell, it was never shared—just kept as a private memory of a personal moment.
outside, I try to change my appearance a bit. Maybe I get rid of my beard, maybe I wear different glasses. I never liked the cold until I realized that a hat and scarf provide the world’s most convenient and inconspicuous anonymity. I change the rhythm and pace of my walk, and, contrary to the sage advice of my mother, I look away from traffic when crossing the street, which is why I’ve never been caught on any of the car dashcams that are ubiquitous here. Passing buildings equipped with CCTV I keep my head down, so that no one will see me as I’m usually seen online—head-on. I used to worry about the bus and metro, but nowadays everybody’s too busy staring at their phones to give me a second glance. If I take a cab, I’ll have it pick me up at a bus or metro stop a few blocks away from where I live and drop me off at an address a few blocks away from where I’m going.
Today, I’m taking the long way around this vast strange city, trying to find some roses. Red roses, white roses, even blue violets.
Any flowers I can find. I don’t know the Russian names of any of them. I just grunt and point.
Lindsay’s Russian is better than mine. She also laughs more easily and is more patient and generous and kind.
Tonight, we’re celebrating our anniversary. Lindsay moved out here three years ago, and two years ago today, we married.
In May 2013, as I sat in that hotel room in Hong Kong wondering whether any journalists would show up to meet me, I’d never felt more alone. Six years later, I find myself in quite the opposite situation, having been welcomed into an extraordinary and ever-expanding global tribe of journalists, lawyers, technologists, and human rights advocates to whom I owe an incalculable debt. At the conclusion of a book, it’s traditional for an author to thank the people who helped make the book possible, and I certainly intend to do that here, but given the circumstances I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank the people who have helped make my life possible—by advocating for my freedom and, especially, by working ceaselessly and selflessly to protect our open societies as well as the technologies that have brought us, and that bring everyone, together.
Over the last nine months, Joshua Cohen has taken me to writing school, helping to transform my rambling reminiscences and capsule manifestos into a book that I hope he can be proud of.
Chris Parris-Lamb proved himself a shrewd and patient agent, while Sam Nicholson provided astute and clarifying edits and sup
port, as did the entire team at Metropolitan, from Gillian Blake to Sara Bershtel, Riva Hocherman, and Grigory Tovbis.
The success of this team is a testament to its members’ talents, and to the talents of the man who assembled it—Ben Wizner, my lawyer, and, I am honored to say, my friend.
In the same vein, I’d like to thank my international team of lawyers who have worked tirelessly to keep me free. I would also like to thank Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s director, who embraced my cause at a time of considerable political risk for the organization, along with the other ACLU staff who have helped me throughout the years, including Bennett Stein, Nicola Morrow, Noa Yachot, and Daniel Kahn Gillmor.
Additionally, I’d like to acknowledge the work of Bob Walker, Jan Tavitian, and their team at the American Program Bureau, who have allowed me to make a living by spreading my message to new audiences around the world.
Trevor Timm and my fellow board members at the Freedom of the Press Foundation have provided the space and resources for me to return to my true passion, engineering for social good. I am especially grateful to our CTO Micah Lee, former FPF operations manager Emmanuel Morales, and current FPF board member Daniel Ellsberg, who has given the world the model of his rectitude, and given me the warmth and candor of his friendship.
This book was written using free and open-source software. I would like to thank the Qubes Project, the Tor Project, and the Free Software Foundation.
My earliest intimations of what it was like to write against deadline came from the masters, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Ewen Macaskill, and Bart Gellman, whose professionalism is informed by a passionate integrity. Having been edited now myself, I have gained a new appreciation of their editors, who refused to be intimidated and took the risks that gave meaning to their principles.
My deepest gratitude is reserved for Sarah Harrison.
And my heart belongs to my family, extended and immediate—to my father, Lon, to my mother, Wendy, and to my brilliant sister, Jessica.
The only way I can end this book is the way I began it: with a dedication to Lindsay, whose love makes life out of exile.
was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and grew up in the shadow of Fort Meade. A systems engineer by training, he served as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency and worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency. He has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Right Livelihood Award, the German Whistleblower Prize, the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, and the Carl von Ossietzky Medal from the International League of Human Rights. Currently, he serves as president of the board of directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.