.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, May 7

Now seems a good time for The Nation's interview with Edward Snowden

In light of today's historic ruling against NSA. That battle isn't over, however; as The Hill report noted:  "The Second Circuit is just one of the three appeals courts examining challenges to the NSA’s phone records program, which may ultimately land at the Supreme Court." But for now, at least, I celebrate by featuring (a small part) of The Nation's great interview:

Edward Snowden: A ‘Nation’ Interview

Among other issues, he discussed the price he has paid for speaking truth to power, his definition of patriotism and accountability, and his frustration with America’s media and political system. The interview has been edited and abridged for publication, compressing lengthy conversations about technological issues that Snowden has discussed elsewhere.

The Nation: You’ve spoken elsewhere about accountability. Are we witnessing the end of accountability in our country? The people who brought us the financial crisis are back in the saddle. The people who brought us the disaster of the Iraq War are now counseling Washington and the public about US foreign policy today. Or, as you have pointed out, James Clapper lies to Congress without even a slap on the wrist.

Snowden: The surveillance revelations are critically important because they revealed that our rights are being redefined in secret, by secret courts that were never intended to have that role—without the consent of the public, without even the awareness of the majority of our political representatives. However, as important as that is, I don’t think it is the most important thing. I think it is the fact that the director of national intelligence gave a false statement to Congress under oath, which is a felony. If we allow our officials to knowingly break the law publicly and face no consequences, we’re instituting a culture of immunity, and this is what I think historically will actually be considered the biggest disappointment of the Obama administration. I don’t think it’s going to be related to social or economic policies; it’s going to be the fact that he said let’s go forward, not backward, in regard to the violations of law that occurred under the Bush administration. There was a real choice when he became president. It was a very difficult choice—to say, “We’re not going to hold senior officials to account with the same laws that every other citizen in the country is held to,” or “This is a nation that believes in the rule of law.” And the rule of law doesn’t mean the police are in charge, but that we all answer to the same laws. You know, if Congress is going to investigate baseball players about whether or not they told the truth, how can we justify giving the most powerful intelligence official, Clapper, a pass? This is how J. Edgar Hoover ended up in charge of the FBI forever.
The Nation: Do you think people on the congressional intelligence committees knew more than other senators and representatives? That they knew they were being told falsehoods and they remained silent?
Snowden: The chairs absolutely do. They’re part of the “Gang of Eight.” They get briefed on every covert-action program and everything like that. They know where all the bodies are buried. At the same time, they get far more campaign donations than anybody else from defense contractors, from intelligence corporations, from private military companies.
The Nation: This makes us wonder whether or not the Internet actually enhances freedom of speech, and thus democracy? Maybe instead it abets invasion of privacy, reckless opinions, misinformation. What are the Internet’s pluses and minuses for the kind of society that you and The Nation seek?
Snowden: I would say the first key concept is that, in terms of technological and communication progress in human history, the Internet is basically the equivalent of electronic telepathy. We can now communicate all the time through our little magic smartphones with people who are anywhere, all the time, constantly learning what they’re thinking, talking about, exchanging messages. And this is a new capability even within the context of the Internet. When people talk about Web 2.0, they mean that when the Internet, the World Wide Web, first became popular, it was one way only. People would publish their websites; other people would read them. But there was no real back and forth other than through e-mail. Web 2.0 was what they called the collaborative web—Facebook, Twitter, the social media. What we’re seeing now, or starting to see, is an atomization of the Internet community. Before, everybody went only to a few sites; now we’ve got all these boutiques. We’ve got crazy little sites going up against established media behemoths. And increasingly we’re seeing these ultra-partisan sites getting larger and larger readerships because people are self-selecting themselves into communities. I describe it as tribalism because they’re very tightly woven communities. Lack of civility is part of it, because that’s how Internet tribes behave. We see this more and more in electoral politics, which have become increasingly poisonous.
All this is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it helps people establish what they value; they understand the sort of ideas they identify with. The curse is that they aren’t challenged in their views. The Internet becomes an echo chamber. Users don’t see the counterarguments. And I think we’re going to see a move away from that, because young people—digital natives who spend their life on the 
Internet—get saturated. It’s like a fashion trend, and becomes a sign of a lack of sophistication. On the other hand, the Internet is there to fill needs that people have for information and socialization. We get this sort of identification thing going on nowadays because it’s a very fractious time. We live in a time of troubles.
The Nation: What do you think will emerge from this time of troubles?
Snowden: Look at the reactions of liberal governments to the surveillance revelations during the last year. In the United States, we’ve got this big debate, but we’ve got official paralysis—because they’re the ones who had their hand caught most deeply in the cookie jar. And there are unquestionable violations of our Constitution. Many of our ally states don’t have these constitutional protections—in the UK, in New Zealand, in Australia. They’ve lost the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause. All of those countries, in the wake of these surveillance revelations, rushed through laws that were basically ghostwritten by the National Security Agency to enable mass surveillance without court oversight, without all of the standard checks and balances that one would expect. Which leads us inevitably to the question: Where are we going to reject that easy but flawed process of letting the intelligence services do whatever they want? It’s inevitable that it will happen. I think it’s going to be where Internet businesses go.
For example, Microsoft is in a court battle with the Department of Justice. The DOJ is saying, “We want information from your data center in Ireland. It’s not about a US citizen, but we want it.” Microsoft said, “OK, fine. Go to a judge in Ireland. Ask them for a warrant. We have a mutual legal-assistance treaty. They’ll do it. Give that to us, and we’ll provide the information to you in accordance with Irish laws.” The DOJ said, “No, you’re an American company, and we have access to your data everywhere. It doesn’t matter about jurisdiction. It doesn’t matter about who it’s regarding.” This is a landmark legal case that’s now going through the appeals process. And it matters because if we allow the United States to set the precedent that national borders don’t matter when it comes to the protection of people’s information, other countries are watching. They’re paying attention to our examples and what is normative behavior in terms of dealing with digital information.
The Nation: They still look to us?
Snowden: They still look to us. But just as importantly, our adversaries do as well. So the question becomes what does, for example, the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo or China do the next time they’ve got a dissident Nobel Peace Prize nominee and they want to read his e-mail, and it’s in an Irish data center? They’re going to say to Microsoft, “You handed this stuff over to the DOJ; you’re going to hand the same thing over to us.” And if Microsoft balks, they’ll say, “Look, if you’re going to apply different legal standards here than you do there, we’re going to sanction you in China. We’re going to put business penalties on you that will make you less competitive.” And Microsoft will suffer, and therefore our economy will suffer.
The Nation: Are countries rebelling against this?
Snowden: Yes, we see this very strongly, for example, in Brazil. They went to the UN and said, “We need new standards for this.” We need to take a look at what they’re calling “data sovereignty.” Russia recently passed a law—I think a terrible law—which says you have to store all of the data from Russian citizens on Russian soil just to prevent other countries from playing the same kind of legal games we’re playing in this Microsoft case.
The Nation: Why is that terrible as a form of sovereignty? What if all countries did that—wouldn’t that break the American monopoly?
Snowden: It would break the American monopoly, but it would also break Internet business, because you’d have to have a data center in every country. And data centers are tremendously expensive, a big capital investment.
When we talk about the assertion of basically new government privileges with weak or no justification, we don’t even have to look at international law to see the failings in them. When we look at how, constitutionally, only Congress can declare war, and that is routinely ignored. Not NATO or the UN, but Congress has to authorize these endless wars, and it isn’t.
The Bush administration marked a very serious and profoundly negative turning point—not just for the nation, but for the international order, because we started to govern on the idea of “might makes right.” And that’s a very old, toxic and infectious idea.
The Nation: This was a reaction to 9/11?
Snowden: A reaction in many ways to 9/11, but also to the Dick Cheney idea of the unitary executive. They needed a pretext for the expansion of not simply federal power, but executive power in particular.
The Nation: But how is this new? The White House was doing the same thing in the Watergate scandal, tapping phones and breaking in.
Snowden: But the arc has continued. Richard Nixon got kicked out of Washington for tapping one hotel suite. Today we’re tapping every American citizen in the country, and no one has been put on trial for it or even investigated. We don’t even have an inquiry into it.
The Nation: In the 1970s, the Church Senate Committee investigated and tried to rein in such things, but we’ve seen the erosion of those reforms.
Snowden: That’s the key—to maintain the garden of liberty, right? This is a generational thing that we must all do continuously. We only have the rights that we protect. It doesn’t matter what we say or think we have. It’s not enough to believe in something; it matters what we actually defend. So when we think in the context of the last decade’s infringements upon personal liberty and the last year’s revelations, it’s not about surveillance. It’s about liberty. When people say, “I have nothing to hide,” what they’re saying is, “My rights don’t matter.” Because you don’t need to justify your rights as a citizen—that inverts the model of responsibility. The government must justify its intrusion into your rights. If you stop defending your rights by saying, “I don’t need them in this context” or “I can’t understand this,” they are no longer rights. You have ceded the concept of your own rights. You’ve converted them into something you get as a revocable privilege from the government, something that can be abrogated at its convenience. And that has diminished the measure of liberty within a society.
The Nation: That’s a fundamental, conservative American idea, going back to inalienable rights.
Snowden: I wonder if it’s conservative or liberal, because when we think of liberal thought, when we think about the relation to liberty, we’re talking about traditional conservatism—as opposed to today’s conservatism, which no longer represents those views.
The Nation: Every president—and this seems to be confirmed by history—will seek to maximize his or her power, and will see modern-day surveillance as part of that power. Who is going to restrain presidential power in this regard?
Snowden: That’s why we have separate and co-equal branches. Maybe it will be Congress, maybe not. Might be the courts, might not. But the idea is that, over time, one of these will get the courage to do so. One of the saddest and most damaging legacies of the Bush administration is the increased assertion of the “state secrets” privilege, which kept organizations like the ACLU—which had cases of people who had actually been tortured and held in indefinite detention—from getting their day in court. The courts were afraid to challenge executive declarations of what would happen. Now, over the last year, we have seen—in almost every single court that has had this sort of national-security case—that they have become markedly more skeptical. People at civil-liberties organizations say it’s a sea change, and that it’s very clear judges have begun to question more critically assertions made by the executive. Even though it seems so obvious now, it is extraordinary in the context of the last decade, because courts had simply said they were not the best branch to adjudicate these claims—which is completely wrong, because they are the only nonpolitical branch. They are the branch that is specifically charged with deciding issues that cannot be impartially decided by politicians. The power of the presidency is important, but it is not determinative. Presidents should not be exempted from the same standards of reason and evidence and justification that any other citizen or civil movement should be held to. By the way, I must say I’m surprised by how skeptical of the Obama administration 
The Nation has been.
The Nation: Critics have long talked about the unwarranted power of “the deep state.”
Snowden: There’s definitely a deep state. Trust me, I’ve been there.
There is much more to the interview.  

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?