Book review: Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
Raul Pavel from Carturesti bookshops uncovers the first book written by whistleblower Edward Snowden: his memoirs about the National Security Agency documents he leaked back in 2013. Snowden and his wife have recently applied for dual US-Russian citizenship, to protect his unborn son, and make sure their family won't be separated.
Seven years ago, a whistleblower under the pseudonym Citezenfour released to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras documents that were to rock the foundations of the American intelligence community (IC). The whistleblower, Edward Snowden, a former systems administrator at the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed the magnitude of the capacities that the IC had in intercepting and collecting the communications and data of millions of its citizens and of foreign nationals.
Under the guise of `national security` and the `war on terrorism`, the Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2001, after the terrorist attack on World Trade Center, allowed the intelligence agencies to increase their surveillance capacities and to be free of any obstruction from the judicial wing of the state in the pursue of their suspects. President Barack Obama later extended the exceptions provided by the Patriot Act, solidifying a system of opaque and secretive surveillance that could be, virtually, at any time abused and used against American citizens if the ruling powers so desired.
Permanent Record is Snowden's first book about what happened in 2013. It could be read as a companion to Laura Poitras's Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour. If in the latter we got to know the extent of the surveillance powers and the complicit participation of the UK, in the former we are allowed to understand the moral and political reasons that led Snowden to act the way he did. Soon after the book was published, the US went to court against Snowden.
Although not quite a biographical work, Permanent Record lays bare the family history and the emotional ties that made Snowden an unwitting historical figure. His idealist patriotism, inculcated from childhood by his parents, career officials in the government, and a genuine nerdiness in all things tech related, make him a sympathetic figure in the whistleblower panoply. He writes with candor and humility about the burden he had to carry – how it might impact his family and lover, the consequences on legitimate security interests and the flagrant disregard of the Constitution by the very institutions set up to protect it.
Only a few months ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the warrantless telephone dragnet that secretly collected millions of Americans’ telephone records violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and may well have been unconstitutional. One might not agree with his reasons or with his actions. Nonetheless, he did a public service not only to the Unites States, but to the world. No government and no authority of any kind, be it private or public, should have the means to undermine and subvert democratic principles without solid justification and without accountability
The full consequences of Snowden's disclosures might never be fully known. But we do know that we cannot take the government’s word for it.
Edward Snowden, Permanent Record, 2020, Pan Macmillan, 44 RON
Raul Pavel is a former bookseller and bookstore manager at Cărturești. As foreign books purchase manager, he is currently in search for the next best read.
This article was written by a guest writer under an editorial partnership and may include affiliated links, which means that we might receive a small commission if you purchase using these links.
(photo by Pan Macmillan)