The reason you’re reading this book is that I did a dangerous thing for a man in my position: I decided to tell the truth.”Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Permanent record is Edward Snowden’s memoir, published in 2018. You’ll know the basic story: Snowden was a US intelligence community contractor who revealed the extent of the American government’s mass surveillance programs and capabilities.
Snowden is a highly divisive character—he’s been labelled as a traitor, a hero, a dissident, a spy, a patriot and everything in between: In ‘Permanent Record’ you hear his side of story.
Snowden writes with clarity, circumspection and great intelligence. From his childhood in a military family, to his career as a highly regarded analyst for the CIA, Snowden documents his experiences and later his growing unease with the way the US intelligence extended its covert surveillance to entire populations. The eventual sacrifice he made in releasing the documents to the press was extraordinary, and you get a real sense of how hard the decision was for him. He was walking a perilous path for months and could have been arrested and imprisoned for life at any point. Remember this was a guy in his 20s, living in Hawaii on a great wage with a girl he loved. He literally gave it all up for the American people:
“I myself had sworn an oath of service not to an agency, nor even a government, but to the public, in support and defense of the Constitution,”Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Snowden always believed that the systematic mass surveillance program was a clear violation of the US constitution, principally the fourth amendment —an amendment that only gives the authorities the right to search property with ‘probable cause’. It’s interesting then that just last month, seven years after Snowden exposed the surveillance, a US federal court ruled that the NSA’s collection of metadata was in fact illegal. Snowden himself couldn’t believe it:
Despite the ruling, a pardon for Snowden seems unlikely…
Closer to home, I found it interesting to note that when the US paints China as a technological menace by the way they surveil their population, the US government is not only do exactly the same thing — it’s also likely that they are surveilling and recording information of the citizenry of other sovereign countries:
What China was doing publicly to its own citizens, America might be—could be—doing secretly to the world.”Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
Permanent Record is thoroughly engaging and revealing read. He does well explaining the technological aspects of the book without getting lost in the details. The meet with journalists in Hong Kong and the escape to Russia matches any thriller for excitement and the pace is snappy throughout. The book highlights the importance of privacy in the technological age but also invites us to consider how we wished to be governed.