Part one of Der Spiegel’s far-ranging interview with Edward Snowden rehashed the Snowden story and gave the whistleblower and former NSA contractor an opportunity to vent on the how and why of his ordeal. It focused on the dangers that private citizens face at the hands of the government. In the second part of the interview, while there are still some references to the government affecting our lives, he addresses some of the concerns and potential ramifications of the massive amount of personal information we voluntarily put out there for all to see.
The interviewer highlights the fact that people are giving huge amounts of intimate data away for free to private corporations like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Instagram. Snowden acknowledges the fact without, apparently, addressing the danger. He states that the younger generation is more privacy-conscious than the older one, while sidestepping the issue of the peril inherent in all that information being out there.
Snowden agrees that we are exposing private information in a way never before seen. He seemingly ignores the detriment to privacy that this represents. Instead, Snowden claims that there is a clear danger of the companies that are gathering this massive data haul somehow becoming complicit in misusing it with governments that hunger for such information.
The power that companies have gained as a result of mass data sharing has morphed into the political arena. It is not uncommon for business leaders to speak out on things like the economy, jobs programs, and education – heretofore the domain of politicians. Snowden points to the possibility of a presidential candidacy of someone like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He asks,
“Do we want the company that has the largest social media presence on Earth and has clear political ambitions, to start deciding what is permissible political speech and what is not?”
That opened the door to the topic of governments meddling in democratic elections. Again, Snowden didn’t wish to be button-holed on the issue. Instead, he observed that this is not a new phenomenon and that many countries are involved in influencing elections. He posited that Russian interference in the recent US presidential election, while possible, is not a foregone conclusion. Many hackers use false flags to deflect attention from their hacking and create misdirection, and this was certainly possible in the case of the US election.
An interesting part of the interview revolved around the issue of what Snowden offered to gain asylum in Russia. He answered that he possessed no documents or anything of further value (other than his previous public revelations) to Russia:
“I couldn't have helped them, even if they had torn my fingernails off.”
He merely found himself trapped at a Russian airport with a revoked US passport. Russia reluctantly granted him asylum after 21 other countries turned him down. Of course, the Russians probably weren't too distressed about poking the Americans in the eye by doing so.
During the course of the interview, the topic shifted to the plight of President Donald Trump, whose agenda is constantly being bedeviled and undermined by leaks and what seems to be an organized resistance deep within the government. The conversation swung to a discussion about the 'deep state' and the monkey-wrench it seems to be throwing into things to thwart the President’s momentum. The deep state is the class of career government officials that survive beyond administrations and which has been a thorn in the side of many presidents - even Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama. Obama wanted to end mass surveillance. Instead, he saw it proliferate alarmingly under his watch. Snowden mused,
“The deep state realizes that while it may not elect the president, it can shape them very quickly - and this is through the same means with which they shape us.”
A clear indication of this, he opines, is the number of anti-terrorism laws that are enacted without meaningful debate.
The deep state will defend its turf and do anything to retain its power. On this, Snowden says,
“Whenever one of their policy choices is threatened, (it) feeds the press and the public with all the dangers we should fear. As a society, we become terrorized.”
The fear, Snowden feels, is the mother’s milk which gives sustenance and fuels more mass surveillance. He adds,
“And the most tragic part of this is that, eventually it is the process itself that is doing the terrorizing. It becomes systemic and this leads us to where we are today.”
Where we are today is the proliferation of right-wing regimes such as in Poland and Hungary and, some would say, the United States under Donald Trump and the Republicans.
At the conclusion of the interview, Snowden wistfully reflects on his status as a legal permanent resident of Russia - he accepts if not embraces his exile. He doubts that a Chelsea Manning-like pardon is in the offing for him in the present political climate in the US and he's cool with that. He spends his time traveling within the expansive country and giving video-conferenced speeches to colleges. Except for remarks such as those encapsulated above, he eschews politics. He admits that he longs for the time when he could slink away from the glare of attention.