Edward Snowden: ‘Privacy is for the powerless’

To mark the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, Edward Snowden talks to Amnesty about how governments are watching everything we do online, and why we must bring mass surveillance back under control. Follow Ed on Twitter @Snowden

Today, the government is granting itself the power to police every citizen’s private life. Every man, woman, child, boy, girl. It doesn’t matter who you are, how innocent or not innocent you are, they are watching everything you’re doing. They’re intercepting it, analyzing it and storing it for increasing periods of time.

The fact that we’ve got agencies like the GCHQ looking through webcams into people’s bedrooms, into the four walls of their homes, is terrifying. The NSA is collecting billions of phone location records a day, so they know where you got on the bus, where you went to work, where you slept and what other cell phones slept with you. We have to ask: “Do we want to live in a society where we live totally naked in front of government, and they are totally opaque to us?”

Some people say: “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide from government spying”. But it’s not about having nothing to hide, it’s about being you. It’s about being friends with who you want to be friends with, without worrying about what it looks like on paper or inside some private record in some dark government vault. It’s about realizing there’s a reason we close the bathroom door. There’s a reason we don’t want the police to have a video camera so they can watch us sitting in the bubble bath.

You could be the most innocent person in the world, but if somebody who is programmed to see patterns of criminality looks at your data, they’re not going to find you – they’re going to find a criminal. Having been an analyst sitting at the desks and targeting people using surveillance, I know that the information that’s in data banks can lead people very easily to the wrong conclusion – particularly when the people who are looking at this data are looking for terrorists and criminals.

We could have the most responsible government in the world today but tomorrow there could be a change. And in times of conflict, when we face serious foreign adversaries and the threat of terrorism, it’s even more important that we protect our values. Because it is in times of panic that we lose rights. We don’t want our politicians to think: “I’m concerned that people will say I didn’t do enough, so instead I did too much.”

Suddenly we have an algorithmic enforcement, investigation and prediction of criminal activity. What we’ll find is that, when we realize that the person to our left or right got arrested for some incredibly minor infraction of law, we are going to rigidly avoid anything that could be considered controversial. There will be no free speech.

Privacy is for the powerless. Transparency is for the powerful. You don’t need to say why you want to be left alone by the state. It is the natural state of being that we are allowed in a free society to be free. If they want to restrict and monitor our activities it really changes the nature of human society.

Check out our Easy Guide to Mass Surveillance

Read about the digital crackdown in North Korea: Connection Denied 

TAKE ACTION on the case of Edward Snowden: a high price for whistleblowing