In Case You Missed It: A Live Virtual Discussion With Edward Snowden

Image courtesy of Sofya Freyman, The JHU News-Letter

Image courtesy of Sofya Freyman, The JHU News-Letter

Last Wednesday night, over 1300+ Hopkins students, faculty, journalists, and Baltimore community members lined up to see Edward Snowden connect via video conference from an undisclosed location in Russia. The headlining event in our 2016 spring series, Architects of the Future, attracted a crowd that lined up all the way back to the Breezeway – our must successful event yet. For those unable to make it in person, we collected the best of quotes of the evening to recap the event.

The importance of privacy

“Privacy is the privilege to be able to enjoy our own intellect without prejudice or prejudgment until we can develop what we believe to the point at which we’re ready to share it with people around us... Individuals are born out of privacy.”
Fundamentally, the question of the boundaries of our rights is a question that should be answered by the American people.

The consequences of the 2013 intelligence leaks

The president said the government felt they’d drawn the right bounds. By January 2014, he said this conversation made us stronger as a nation. We got the USA Freedom Act as a result.

Government failure to protect the citizens' rights

The government is supposed to function as a system of checks and balances. To prevent such programs from going too far, there has to be a natural balance that prevents bad things from happening.
This means there is a danger when we don’t have public scrutiny. Judges are human too. If we divorce ourselves from these issues, the system begins to fail comprehensively across branches.


On journalists and his method of leaking information

I made journalists publish no story without first giving the government a chance to respond to the claims they make. That is why we’re sitting here in 2016, despite the fact that the CIA and NSA would like to say I have blood on my hands.
We have a double filter and replicate checks and balances with journalists. Then, they bring it to the government asking if it’s been brought too far. I don’t reveal what I think is a real threat.
Many think that I’m sitting in some shadowy room controlling a team of journalists...It’s not my choice to decide which documents are released. That’s why we have the press.

The politics of whistleblowing

We’ve had a long history of whistleblowers who have not been responded to gently. The institution retaliates when an individual speaks against it.
They destroyed Thomas Drake’s life. The Espionage Act of 1917 treated him as a spy even though he gave this information to Congress. Now he works in the Apple store.
Whistleblowers had burned their life to the ground. Whistleblowing requires you to be able to light a match and burn everything to the ground.

Why he did it

Everyone wants to think there was one spark that made me think... It took me a longer time period, gaining wider exposure to documents, until I realized the realities were different from the public representations of these facts.
We didn’t sign up to spy on our own country. No one in the NSA thinks they’re doing something terrible.

Terrorism and the "Infrastructure of Fear"

We’re no longer in a period of total war or existential threats. Terrorism claims fewer lives than our own police or automobile accidents. Why are we allocating so many of our resources in a way causing more threats? This boils down to a lack of courage in the political class.
Should we be investing in an infrastructure of fear? Or should we invest in things that will make a quantifiable difference and save lives, like education?


Prospects of Returning to The United States?

I said I wanted to be guaranteed a fair trial. The government responded that I would not be tortured. Let’s just say [returning home is] a work-in-progress.
Technology is bringing about the end of exile. I may go to sleep in Moscow, but right now I’m in Baltimore, and that’s a powerful thing.