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Snowden: 2013 Was Year People From Indianapolis to Indonesia Realized Dragnet Surveillance No Mark of Progress

One hundred individuals named “Leading Global Thinkers of 2013” by Foreign Policy magazine were honored last night at a reception event in Washington, DC.

Former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden was designated by the magazine as one of this year’s leading thinkers on the issue of surveillance. Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, advocate and attorney for whistleblowers, Jesselyn Radack, Senator Ron Wyden and Brazil president Dilma Rousseff were also designated as “Leading Global Thinkers.”

A feature story was written by William T. Vollmann and published by the magazine to accompany the magazine’s recognition of these great voices on surveillance. Vollmann wrote, “Surveillance becomes more odious to the surveilled as it is coupled with secrecy. An absolutely open society, in which we could watch each other at any time, might be beautiful in its own way, but it would certainly be alien to us.”

“A society in which the surveilled are kept ignorant of the watching, the state that our security apparatus appears to be striving for — one reason it expressed so much fury when leaker Edward Snowden exposed its activities — would be the other extreme. As I have said, it is not a society in which I would like to live.”

Snowden—for obvious reasons that include a criminal indictment from the United States Justice Department—could not attend the reception. He had Radack read a statement.

The statement read at the event (and released by the Government Accountability Project) is as follows:

It’s an honor to address you tonight. I apologize for being unable to attend in person, but I’ve been having a bit of passport trouble. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras also regrettably could not accept their invitations. As it turns out, revealing matters of “legitimate concern” nowadays puts you on the list for more than “Global Thinker” awards.

2013 has been an important year for civil society. As we look back on the events of the past year and their implications for the state of surveillance within the United States and around the world, I suspect we will remember this year less for the changes in policies that are sure to come, than for changing our minds. In a single year, people from Indonesia to Indianapolis have come to realize that dragnet surveillance is not a mark of progress, but a problem to be solved.

We’ve learned that we’ve allowed technological capabilities to dictate policies and practices, rather than ensuring that our laws and values guide our technological capabilities. And take notice: this awareness, and these sentiments, are held most strongly among the young – those with lifetimes of votes ahead of them.

Even those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls should agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public. No official may decide the limit of our rights in secret.

Today we stand at the crossroads of policy, where parliaments and presidents on every continent are grappling with how to bring meaningful oversight to the darkest corners of our national security bureaucracies. The stakes are high. James Madison warned that our freedoms are most likely to be abridged by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power. I bet my life on the idea that together, in the light of day, we can find a better balance.

I’m grateful to Foreign Policy Magazine and the many others helping to expose those encroachments and to end that silence.

Thank you.

Photo by svennevenn under Creative Commons license

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."