This Christmas, Edward Snowden Wants the World to Rediscover the Gift of Privacy

England's Channel 4 allows whistleblower to pass along a holiday message


England's Channel 4 offers up an alternative to the Queen's Christmas message every December. This year, the channel passed along a message from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, recorded in Russia:

An important section for those who can't watch the video:

"A child born today will grow up with no expectation of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves – an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's important because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be. 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."

A couple of thoughts come to mind listening to this:

  • There needs to be more work making a better case for privacy. It's excellent that a millennial like Snowden has become the face of this fight, given that his generation has become famous for sharing everything it does online. Don't treat this as a criticism of social media – in general, being able to share so much more of our lives across great distances has made communicating so much easier and effective. But Snowden's statement about why privacy matters lacks punch. It feels unfinished. How does government data collection affect our ability to determine who we are and who we want to be?
  • There is still little or no significant cultural push beyond the strongest privacy and security advocates or activists for any sort of consequences for this systemic, entrenched breach of the public trust. The chorus calling for consequences (either termination or prosecution – or both) for Director of National Intelligence head James Clapper for lying to Congress under oath about the extent of the federal collection of Americans' data is still small. The National Security Agency still feels comfortable appearing on 60 Minutes to mislead the public about what it is doing. And the media obviously doesn't feel enough public pressure yet to resist allowing surveillance supporters from invoking terrorism threats an 9/11 as a defense, despite the lack of evidence this data collection has helped at all.

Will privacy become an election issue in 2014 or will Obamacare overwhelm all arguments? Do we have to wait for the next presidential election to really have this fight? (Or will there even be an actual fight?)