Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
It’s not like what Permanent Record by Edward Snowden shows is any new in regards to privacy and security courtesy of the internet. By now we all know, well, most of us I presume, that Big Brother is always watching. Now, if you have read 1984 by George Orwell, you have a glimpse of what Big Brother can do. Only that it’s not fiction this time. News outlets and Citizenfour documentary show in detail his revelations about the mass surveillance actions of the National Security Agency(NSA).
What the book offers, though, is a glimpse into his life, right from his childhood to taking up jobs with various Intelligence Community agencies like the NSA and the CIA as a contractor. It offers insights into what drove him into leaking classified intel to the journalists. It also allows you to read the script from his perspective.
At the beginning of the book, Snowden talks about his life, growing up in a world where the internet was an escape haven. It was immensely secure, especially on issues of people’s private data. But with time, things changed. Corporations were all about finding ways to monetize people’s data. Government’s were/are championing domestic security through mass surveillance.
In the USA, surveillance heightened after 9/11, and that was Snowden’s turning point. He joined the military in a bid to keep his country safe. While he did not manage to finish his military training, he found a way to serve in other ways, using his skills in IT. He built or helped build programs for the intelligence community, some of which would be enhanced for surveillance purposes.
He later relocated to Hawaii, where he would spend the last few years of his career researching and gathering evidence on the mass surveillance activities of the government. While the first chapters about his life are not as thrilling, those last chapters will make you feel like you are reading a thriller novel.
Every page after he left the US for Hong Kong to meet the journalists were suspense after suspense. The suspense gets worse after the stories are published, and when he later decided to reveal his identity.
The movies never prepare you enough for what one would have to go through to elude capture by the FBI or any other agency, especially when it’s a real-life story. As much as you know he manages to get away, your heart will still be beating so hard, waiting for it to unfold. That was me the whole time.
For Snowden, it included seeking refuge in one of the slums in Hong Kong. A narrow escape from Hong Kong to Ecuador with a 24-hour layover in Moscow, Russia after the US requested extradition but made a mistake with his middle name- quite lucky there. But that luck ran out when the US canceled his passport during his flight. The 24-hour layover turned into days, 40 days actually since he could not leave without a valid passport. And that’s how he ended up living in Russia.
There’s quite a lot of information to learn from this book, especially if you’re not into tech subjects. But when it comes to data privacy, it’s time we all started getting interested. With the mass surveillance systems, governments can tap into your computers, phones, and any electronic devices. They can access your emails, your photo galleries, even turn on your mic and camera for a real-time show of your activities.
“Which means that if you’re reading this now—this sentence—on any sort of modern machine, like a smartphone or tablet, they can follow along and read you.”― Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
The “delete” function is also just an illusion in tech. You will delete a file, but it is just gone from your view, and a copy of that file remains in a disc somewhere.
“The truth, though, is that deletion has never existed technologically in the way that we conceive of it. Deletion is just a ruse, a figment, a public fiction, a not-quite-noble lie that computing tells you to reassure you and give you comfort.” ― Edward Snowden, Permanent Record
There are more privacy issues that you get to learn from the book and a glimpse of how corporations use your data for advertisements. The internet, too, has plenty of information if you want to learn more after reading the book.
It’s good to learn that these reveals pushed a conversation on data privacy. GDPR came into effect, and company’s like Google and Apple heightened their privacy. The latest development is Apple’s new security measures that let you choose what photos in your gallery apps can access. It also enables you to know what app has access to your mic, doesn’t keep track of your locations, and others.
What I also loved in the book is one of the last chapters that includes notes from his then-girlfriend, Lindsay. She has narrations of what happened before and after Snowden’s revelations, which she had no idea of. Part of it includes being followed around by the FBI and the many interrogations. She later moved to Moscow in 2014, and they got married in 2017.
Online privacy is becoming a necessity, and Permanent Record by Edward Snowden proves this much, at least for me. Now more than ever, I am concerned about my privacy when online, and what corporations do with it. Hopefully, Kenya’s Data Protection Act will help curb our privacy concerns.
My ★ Rating 4.5
Goodreads ★ Rating 4.34 (as of September 2020)
Get more book recommendations here.