Edward Snowden, on the run for two years after leaking classified National Security Agency documents to the press, has penned an opinion piece claiming a victory in his battle against unlimited government surveillance.
In a piece called “The World Says No to Surveillance” published in the New York Times, Snowden celebrated the decision of the U.S. Congress to turn away from post-9/11 law and change the way the nation weighs liberty against security in the 21st century.
“Privately, there were moments when I worried that we might have put our privileged lives at risk for nothing — that the public would react with indifference, or practiced cynicism, to the revelations,” Snowden wrote. “Never have I been so grateful to have been so wrong.”
While Snowden said the right to privacy in America “remains under threat,” he noted — and, implicitly, took credit for — the emergence of “a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy.”
“This is the power of an informed public,” he wrote.
Earlier this week, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which curtailed the government’s ability to snoop on its citizens. The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima called the law, which “ends the bulk collection of data and increases the transparency of secret courts,” a “milestone in the post-9/11 world.”
“The USA Freedom Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday, marks the first piece of legislation to rein in surveillance powers in the wake of disclosures two years ago by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and the national debate he catalyzed,” Nakashima wrote. “It comes as Obama is winding down the nation’s wars overseas and as fears of another terrorist attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, no longer galvanize and unify lawmakers in the same way they once did.”
Some, however, say the government is more able to continue the surveillance Snowden criticizes than this narrative might suggest.
“Although the law does prohibit the bulk collection of the metadata linked to all American telephone communications, it arguably will expand the government’s ability to analyze the data it does collect,” political scientist H.L. Pohlman wrote in The Post hosted blog, the Monkey Cage. He said the legislation “seems to permit the government to analyze the data not just for specific cases of counterterrorism, but for the purpose of conducting U.S. foreign policy — a much broader category.”
Snowden’s victory lap comes not long after some wondered whether his efforts had amounted to anything at all. Not only had many called the 31-year-old former NSA contractor a traitor, but the complicated surveillance schemes he first laid out for The Post and the Guardian in 2013 drew only mixed reactions and considerable support from Americans in polls.
In a recent interview, HBO’s John Oliver — a quite unlikely interlocutor — showed Snowden “man on the street” interviews in which average Joes were hard-pressed to explain what Snowden, exiled to Russia, had done.
“You might be able to go home,” Oliver said, “because it seems like no one knows who the f— you are and what the f— you did.”
Snowden, who is playing a long game with additional leaks of classified material to different news organizations over time, wasn’t worried.
“With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear,” he wrote in the Times. “As a society, we rediscover that the value of a right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.”