Civil liberties Foreign policy Governance Transparency

Alternative Christmas Message 2013: Edward Snowden


Hi, and Merry Christmas. I’m honored to have the chance to speak with you and your family this year.

Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.

Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.

Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

For everyone out there listening, thank you, and Merry Christmas.


That closing note has a unique ring in Canada, where the federal government appears intent on using seemingly every piece of legislation as a means to advance the cause of mass surveillance under the rubric of public safety, as protection against (fill in the blank): terrorists, pedophiles, online bullies…

Paradoxically, the same government, intent on collecting as much information as it can on individual Canadians (and occasional Brazilians, etc) without consent, has increasingly gone out of its way to deny access to public records that would speak to its accountability to their collective population.

Perhaps one of the most cynical abuses in recent year was how Canadians’ increased distrust of their own government, stemming from a 2003 decision to contract out national census (among other) data processing to a U.S. military contractor, was used by the current federal government to justify its decision to cancel the long-form census. In so doing, it effectively denied all Canadians access to what had for decades been the most reliable and comprehensive source of information on their collective social and economic well-being – conveniently starting with the census year immediately following the worst recession since the Great Depression.

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