Earlier this week, I was fortunate to have a lengthy conversation with Edward Snowden. The chat was held at Rightscon and moderated by Access’ Amie Stephanovich, and it is archived at the RightsCon website here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGDqXokPGiE
We covered many topics, and I learned a great deal about Ed’s positions, and also his eloquence and passion. It is clear he has deeply held and sophisticated perspectives on security, rights, and freedom. It is remarkable that the person who is the world’s most important whistleblower in the history of intelligence also happens to be so thoughtful and articulate.
We spoke about the Internet rights community, and the challenges of extending the values of that community to the broader public in a context where big data and state surveillance are overwhelmingly dominating. I made the case for the value of evidence-based, mixed methods University research of the sort that Citizen Lab does to bring transparency and support human rights advocacy. I described the various fellowship opportunities, and even recommended Ed apply for one as a remote fellow. 🙂
We also spoke about the status of the Snowden disclosures moving forward. It is clear Ed thought carefully about how best to avoid prejudice concerning the analysis of the documents. Handing them over to third parties makes sense. But now, the documents are largely in the possession of a single media organization and the process around access to them for outside interested parties is opaque and lacking in explicit rules that we can all acknowledge. Opening the entire cache up to the public, on the other hand, would be irresponsible since there is still sensitive information in them that could put lives at risk.
A different model I proposed is to create a respected international independent advisory board that would oversee and adjudicate applications to the archives from journalists and researchers. Ed responded that discussions had been held with a University about taking the documents, but the University was naturally concerned about the liabilities of handling them. But I believe that is confusing things. Here we need to separate the physical location of the documents from the process of how to get access to them. It does not matter where the documents are archived — whether that be in one or several locations — as long as they are secure. What matters more is the process by which decisions are made as to who gets access to them. Right now, it’s a bit of a mystery and based largely on personal connections revolving around one or two journalists and a few editors of a private company. Moving forward, that needs to change. It’s a matter of global public interest.