Published on 25 Dec 2013

Snowden’s alternative Christmas message: your child will never have privacy

He’s on the run and faces jail if he returns to the USA. But from Moscow, where he’s been granted political asylum, Edward Snowden has delivered a defiant message. In fact it’s a Christmas message, courtesy of the British TV network, Channel 4.

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Snowden told viewers that the technology of George Orwell’s 1984 is nothing compared to what we have available today. “We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.”

‘No conception of privacy’

“A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”

Snowden, a former spy at America’s National Security Agency, released 58,000 classified documents to the Guardian in June, before fleeing to Russia via Hong Kong.

The documents show American spooks routinely capture phone and internet data from US citizens on a massive scale.

And they reveal the existence of the Prism programme, where spooks get direct access to data from Google, Facebook and Apple’s server systems.

‘Rebalancing surveillance’

Today Snowden said the debate sparked by his revelations will set the tone for a rebalancing of surveillance and privacy.

He added: “The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it.

“Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.”

Last week President Obama’s advisory panel called the NSA’s rules to be changed after the revelations.

But for Snowden himself, there was no Christmas message of goodwill.

‘No immunity for Snowden’

The US Attorney General Eric Holder said: “I don’t think there is a basis for that [immunity deal for Snowden] at this point.

“What he did harmed our national security in great many ways and I think he should be held accountable for what he did.”

The material Snowden leaked is so sensitive that UK spymasters told Guardian newspaper to destroy computers it was held on. Intelligence chiefs said he’d put British intelligence operations at risk, “handing the advantage to terrorists”.

The public reaction in the UK, to both Snowden and the security backlash against him, remains muted. Many people assume, since they are breaking no laws, their data is of no interest. In the USA there has been outrage on both sides.

I’ll be monitoring social media as the speech goes out to see how Snowden’s words play out to a population that’s just spent millions of pounds on smartphones and tablets that, according to the exiled whistleblower, are little better than Orwellian spying devices.

The Alternative Christmas Message will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 4:15pm on Christmas day and will be available to view on 4oD.

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13 reader comments

  1. Rex says:

    Leaders are born to the people. Let every citizen around the world who would hope for a more civil and free society, learn from heroes like Edward Snowden who indeed are willing to talk “truth to power.”
    Your privacy and private life are worth more then their weight in gold. Fight for your freedom against any and all would-be self appointed Gods.

  2. Vernon Moat says:

    This is the best Christmas present I’ve had. Very brave of C4 to stick their necks out like this. Maybe they should take ALL the licence fee from the BBC who are still hiding in the shadows & supporting the annihilation of UK Democracy by our politicians.

  3. Eva Pascoe says:

    Paul, great piece but it is not true that the reactions to Snowden revelations were ‘muted’ in UK. See our tracking of the progress at http://www.cybersalon.org/privacy – Open Rights Group, Cybersalon, #Cryptoparty are driving the campaign to halt both State and Commercial abuse of data privacy, but it takes time as needs both political and cryptography implementation change!

  4. Allan says:

    Merry Christmas mr Mason, another in depth report from Britains favourite alternative corporate news site. Privacy is valued irrespective of the media trying to teach us otherwise. Our children will enjoy as much privacy as we do. On a lesser note, may have been helpful to report something?

  5. Philip says:

    I have somewhat mixed views about Snowden. I confess to being one of those who doesn’t think my cybercommunications are likely to be of any interest to GCHQ, the CIA or anyone else. And if the security services were able to prevent terrible events like 7/7 and 9/11 as a result of doing this surveillance, I would probably breathe a sigh of relief. As I know people who were killed on 7/7 as well as those who remain traumatised by what they saw and heard on those Tube trains, I can well see why Governments don’t want to be accused of not doing all they can to prevent such occurrences in future.
    However, I also dislike the thought that without my say-so, Governments can get up to this sort of thing and without any clear parameters for who to target or what to do with the information they pick up. There is a significant risk that information picked up this way could, for instance, be used to blackmail dissenters or those who are inconvenient whistleblowers or government critics. There seem to be no guarantees about what use this information could be put to in future, to increase the leverage of the state over the individual. At the very least, there needs to be (a) legal boundaries (b) independent, powerful oversight, (c) regulation covering people who could be targeted, destruction of information collected and use of the information. It should be subject to in-depth annual review by Parliament, advised by the body providing the independent oversight. There should be criminal penalties for breaking the rules, not least misuse of information.
    But I also have to make the point that by seeking asylum in Putin’s Russia, Snowden does little to support his credibility. If the Russians don’t do at least as much as the US & Brits have been doing and for exactly the reasons which concern me about the potential way this snooping could be used (i.e. to track & deal with dissenters, opponents of the regime, etc), I’d be utterly gobsmacked. The US and UK are certainly flawed in many respects, but compared to Putin’s Russia, they are squeaky clean.

    1. All seeing guy says:

      Snowden is a hero for many reasons.
      1- he made us all realise we were living in cuckoo land by listening to these war mongerers and believing everything they say.
      2- you ever remember when u were a kid and some1 made two other people fight cos they new something about each of them and told the relavant parties including putting a spin on it to give it that extra spark. And behind the seens acted like a hero.
      Welcome to American policy.
      3- u talk about 7/7. And 9/11
      Regards to 7/7 y would a Muslim blow up the most Muslim populated area in uk namely edge ware road.
      Also. I guess the advert on the side if the bus that clearly said terrorism is brilliant was put by him too was it?
      And 9/11. Oh please where do I start. Shall we start with 9/11 attacks on U.S dollar ? Or almost every newyorker believes it was an inside job? Or even the so called pilots in the plain were seen in morrocco weeks after? Wake up . Yes time to wake up everybody.

  6. fifeflyer says:

    A brave man to have done what he has knowing that he may never see his loved ones again. History has shown that when a (few) brave individuals are willing to make a sacrifice for the benefit of others, change can follow. His warning is chilling though……

  7. Robert Reynolds says:

    “The conversation” that Edward Snowden hopes he has fired-up for today, hitherto has been precluded or drowned-out in press and public and even political circles, almost all of us by our cultural inheritance and personal situations rendered essentially deaf, dumb and blind.

    From the mix of understandable cowardice and continued mischief in press response, by and large, to the Leveson Report recommendations on self regulation of the press (essentially for periodic reporting – independent of government – on performance in press self-regulation, to be measured against whatever standards might be declared or claimed by the press itself), the portents for our ‘conversation’ – even post-Snowden – are not good.

    It remains the case that even with awareness of ‘universal snooping’, most are transfixed by fear of crime and terrorism, missing address of causative context for both. Most will never hear or recognise a cogent account of risk (dire) in power beyond genuinely representative scrutiny or the restraint of free conscience, most voices – informed or not – will never reach the ears even of NSA analysts let alone of the wider public (fed by a captive press), and from the deficiencies of our education with respect to genuine democracy, most of us are blinded to problems as such, or made accepting of their inevitability.

    Snowden appears ready to place trust in an awakened American and global public, and in the processes of public scrutiny now in motion, as both perhaps being more meaningful – in his young mind – than those that once drove McCarthyism underground. Evidence so far, sadly, is of prospects akin to those of the Arab Spring, of a naive idealism inevitably to be defeated, lacking appreciation – or perhaps in folly rejecting – of the crying need for equal partnership democracy, for the enablement of rational trust in each other, and for the representative oversight of each other’s contributions and ‘rewards’.

    Within the vice-like grip of Mammon, all of us are to some extent by fear and greed made party to the concentration of wealth and power in Quisling hands. Humanity faces – in advance of any ‘conversation’ – a stern perhaps final test of viability, of intelligence and courage as against gullibility and cowardice, against betrayal of the future.

  8. quietoaktree says:

    “The public reaction in the UK, to both Snowden and the security backlash against him, remains muted.”

    A rather damning observation of a society that claims to defend democracy and freedom.

    –apparently it is ignorant of both and a danger to those who have contact. The damage done by the UK to the EU, EU member countries and NATO members are NOT the fault of Snowden.

    –but of course Britain is not Europe –a convenience supported by anti-European propaganda by the British government and most media at every opportunity.

    Are there any good reasons why Britain should not be declared as a rogue state ?

  9. Rory says:

    “see how Snowden’s words play out to a population that’s just spent millions of pounds on smartphones and tablets that, according to the exiled whistleblower, are little better than Orwellian spying devices”
    You make it sound as though he said smartphones are useless/only there so the government can track you. What he actually said was that they are used to track you. They’re very useful pieces of technology which can be used fora range of things, the fact the government is exploiting them to track the population and destroy privacy has nothing to do with their other uses. I only take issue as it makes it sound (whether that was the intention I don’t know) as though the choice is between using your smartphone and accepting (outrageous) government intrusion or getting rid of your smartphone. We need to demand these surveillance programs are stopped and we can use this technology for the purposes it’s meant to be used.
    Merry Christmas!

  10. Irene Magrath says:

    What Snowden has to say probably affects me & I’d like to hear – why can’t I get his message in Spain?

  11. Defy bmutty says:

    First why do I have to give you my name and other info…? You want my option? Here it is. I consider Snowdens an absolute hero, similar to our forefathers who fought against the long arm of English government. We Americans are similar to lemmings we no longer think independently. , we as a people have lost our fever for integrity , transparency, bravery, and the value of freedom. We are more concerned for our own immediate comforts of ourselves than our children and grandchildren. Remember two truths, “nothing of true value in life standards comes free and personal boundaries are put into place to ensure that which is of value lives on. Apparently our personal freedom is no longer of value to us as individuals or it is less important than our present state of comfort. So sad. God have mercy on us all.

  12. Philip Edwards says:

    Paul,

    If this piece had been handed to Hilsum, Rugman or Miller they would be blaming Putin, Assad, Saddam Hussein or “Jihadist Islamists” for the activities of Brit and US “intelligence” services, plus late emptying of your bins.

    Well, they have to justify their pay somehow.

    Privacy? That disappeared decades ago. Google “Cointelpro” and “MKULTRA.” It might help you avoid further illusions. Is it only last year one of Rupert Murdoch’s disgusting scumbags at the Levison Inquiry described privacy as “evil”? Some people never learn.

    As for mainstream media (that is, YOU LOT), if you stopped turning away from uncomfortable truths as a matter of course it might help restore decency. One swallow – which is all this is – does not a Summer make.

    Suggestion: Do a piece on how the Friends at Vauxhall Cross have subverted Brit mainstream media, who they employ therein and how they go about manufacturing their propaganda. You could start by asking Jon Snow. Then put it in front of Mr. de Pear. See how far you get. But don’t hold your breath.

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