Edward Snowden on Privacy, Values, and Government Surveillance

John Oliver’s recent interview with Edward Snowden is circulating widely online, but given the ignorance displayed in “man on the street” segments it deserves more attention. Those segments are included in the video below, and misapprehensions range from the belief that Snowden sold secrets to associating him with WikiLeaks (that’s not Snowden, it’s Julian Assange).

To be clear, this is not a sympathetic interview. There are some humorous parts, but Oliver is not tossing softballs. He asks Snowden difficult questions about whether he understood the implications of the information he released, and whether turning it over to journalists was a responsible decision. As a Snowden supporter some parts of the conversation were frustrating to me, but that probably means that it was a fair interview.

The most important part of the video below concerns Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows government collection of “any tangible thing” that is “relevant to” a terrorism investigation. That’s an unbelievably broad provision, and one that its author James Sensenbrenner claims has been misinterpreted by lenient FISA courts and should be put out of business. We must have a very serious national conversation about this bill before its renewal on June 1 of this year.

There were several good quotes from Edward Snowden in the interview. Here are my two favorites:

You will never be completely free from risk if you’re free.

You shouldn’t change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing. If we sacrifice our values because we’re afraid, we don’t care about those values very much.