Studentafton with Edward Snowden

“Do you want security or do you want surveillance? Because you can’t have both. Surveillance only works when you are vulnerable. If you want to do good today and for the new generation you must understand that surveillance and security are contrary to each other.”

It is Tuesday night and the great hall in AF-borgen is filled to its limit. The main person for the night is Edward Snowden, a whistle-blower known as one of US most wanted persons. The first question for the night is naturally if it was worth it? – “Not only do I think it was worth it, I would do it again and I would have come forward sooner” Snowden says. He describes how he has seen laws and policies change since his disclosure, for the first time laws have become more restrictive instead of more allowing. – “We, the public, have regained something that we had lost.” According to Snowden, his exposure is not only about NSA, or even surveillance, but about that citizens in US are denied access to basic human rights.

So where are we going from here? Edward Snowden emphasises that we live in the safest world humanity have ever experienced, however, our impression is the opposite. Why is this? Because all the worst and most horrific things are displayed in our living rooms, media is feeding us with horrifying stories. What happens then is that politicians feel a need to respond and loses their abilities to compromise and contextualise. The government spend millions and millions again on military and counterterrorism, however a citizen of the US is more likely to die through a bathroom fall or being killed by the police than by acts of terrorism. – “The only way for us to lose free society to acts of terrorism is to abandoned it ourselves.”

According to Snowden there have not been identified a single instance where NSA’s mass surveillance have been proved to disrupt an imminent terrorism threat against US. But even so, he says, if there was an instance where mass surveillance could parry an act of terrorism, would that justify a restriction on the right to privacy for people all over the world? Snowden’s answer is no. – “You don’t know what rights you need until the day you need them.” Arguments such as if you got nothing to hide, you got nothing to fear in relation to restrictions of the right to privacy, is the same as saying if you got nothing to say you do not need freedom of speech or freedom of press. His conclusion is than even if mass surveillance was sufficient it is still a violation of the values of the free society. “Free society is not without risk, but it is the best society despite that risk.”

He also highlights the global perspective of mass surveillance. When corporations are forced to work for one government, they are forced to work for all of them. Because when they grant US access to their data, how can they push back when e.g. China comes with the same request. This leads to the conclusion that if we allow mass surveillance, the allowance itself will produce misuse. According to Snowden this is not only possible but it is certainty happening all around the globe today.

Edward Snowden is also asked about this choice to come forward with the information and how it changed his life. Snowden answers that all that happened was something he never really wanted. But we all have a line, according to Snowden, which when we cross we know that we do not only have the capacity to act, but a duty to do so. – “I crossed that line and it changed me”. Legality over time, he continues, can become distinct from morality in certain situations or structures for example slavery and the conducts during WWII. But we can also find this happening in modern time where the law is one thing, and the right thing to do is another thing. –“There are moments, constantly, in every country on this earth where people stand up and says this is unlawful, but it is also moral.”

However, Edward Snowden seems hopeful. Already in 2014 the United Nations’ special rapporteur for counter-terrorism and human rights condemned the mass surveillance that Snowden exposed as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions. And as late as October last year the European parliament voted to approve a resolution on mass surveillance, which include a request to EU nations to grant “protection” to Snowden.

Snowden says that although in exile, he is more connected today then ever before. –“It is hopeful because the old bad means for political oppression are beginning to fail. I may not be granted a passport to go to Sweden but I´m still able to talk to you. And that is hopeful.”

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