In his latest interview, this time with the Guardian, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden stressed again that his continued stay in Russia is no indication of allegiance nor subterfuge with the Kremlin. Rather, he said, Russia is a place of greater safety while the US refuses to let him bring a public interest defense to court against the Espionage Act charges he faces in America.
"If I end up in chains in Guantanamo Bay for the rest of my life, I can live with that," he said. His blank expression belied the force of his remarks. He was nodding to a horrifying reality: For the act of making public the most important information ever to come to light on how the government surveils our every move, a lifetime — or at least decades — in prison are likely. He would be joining the ranks of Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, both serving long sentences for freeing public interest information.
That he feels his leaks were worth it commands respect. The former NSA contractor knew the risks of his document dump but acted anyway, condemning himself to exile or a cage, so that we can know the truth about our surveillance society.
Snowden says he can live with that — but can we? In the last year, as leaks about NSA data hoarding and dragnet spycraft have emerged from Snowden's trove, most of us have shown what we can live with. Aside from some meek Congressional reform efforts and pushes to generalize online privacy practices, we have shown ourselves remarkably able to live with the fact of mass government surveillance.
We did not consent to this circumstance because we did not have the information to consent or refuse. Snowden gave us this knowledge and life goes on. As the whistleblower himself notes in the interview, our reality is worse than George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four dystopia because we choose to carry around cell phones and the tools for our own surveillance. But it would be a tall order to extract ourselves from networked life, from the trappings of advanced techno-capital through which we live and are surveilled. We stay on the grid, our data feeds NSA hoards, and, it seems, we can live with that.
Yet if we are to take seriously Snowden's sacrifice — and those of whistleblowers like Manning and hackers like Hammond — we at the very least are beholden to challenge our current relationship to the state and capital. It is not enough that we know we live under and through a corporate government surveillance nexus. We should be adversarial to this fact, we should not live with it. We should, all of us (it has to be most of us at least) incorporate practices into our networked lives that clog up the surveillance machine. Snowden may be able to live with the possibility of life handcuffed at Gitmo. We should find such operations of the state quite literally unbearable.
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Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard