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.


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.

Follow @paulmasonnews on Twitter