Unless they were citizens of a country under a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime, it used to be only tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists who worried about government-led mass surveillance. The rest, knowing that as citizens of a democratic nation they were entitled to their privacy, assumed that their elected leaders would be respectful of that fundamental right. But Edward Snowden's revelations gave sight to a scary reality where governments violate their citizen's rights with blatant disregard.
The United States of America, a country that perhaps most prides itself on embodying the values of 'freedom', conducted the most rampant mass surveillance in history with impunity. Surprisingly, it was an American citizen, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor who outed his nation's transgressions against its own people.
When Edward Snowden discovered the invasive and massive scale of the surveillance that NSA was conducting, he considered it his patriotic duty to inform the American people of the crimes they were being unknowingly subjected to. That too from the very people who were sworn to protect them. So, he leaked damning information about the US intelligence's extensive phone and internet surveillance and fled to Russia; giving up a comfortable life in his home country for a cause he believed in.
Today, as Edward Snowden turns 34, the US still continues its attempt to extradite and prosecute him on espionage charges. But he continues to fight for freedom in all its forms and this is what he has had to say about why he did what he did:
"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."
"Sometimes the scandal is not what law was broken, but what the law allows."
"The definition of a security state is one that prioritizes security over all other considerations."
"So many of the things we're told by the government simply aren't true."
“Privacy is the fountainhead of all other rights. Freedom of speech doesn’t have a lot of meaning if you can’t have a quiet space. A space within yourself, within your mind, within the community of your friends, within your home, to decide what it is you actually want to say.”
“Privacy isn’t about something to hide. Privacy is about something to protect. And that’s who you are. That’s what you believe in. That’s who you want to become. Privacy is the right to the self. Privacy is what gives you the ability to share with the world who you are on your own terms.”
“The common argument that we have ‘if you have nothing to hide …you have nothing to fear’– the origins of that are literally Nazi propaganda… That is literally the origin of that quote. It’s from their minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels. So when we hear modern politicians, when we hear modern people repeating that reflexively without confronting its origins, without confronting what it really says… that’s harmful.”
"I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal."
"I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can't allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I'm not going to be part of that."
"No system of mass surveillance has existed in any society, that we know of to this point, that has not been abused."
"I would rather be without a state than without a voice."
"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
"All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed. That is a milestone we left a long time ago."
"The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law."
"I did not seek to sell U.S. secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice."
"Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they'll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it."
"I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
"Being a patriot doesn't mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen, from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don't have to be foreign countries."
"Every person remembers some moment in their life where they witnessed some injustice, big or small, and looked away because the consequences of intervening seemed too intimidating. But there's a limit to the amount of incivility, inequality and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate. I crossed that line. And I'm no longer alone."
"All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by imprisoning or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."