Book Review: Permanent Record

Posted on Aug 23, 2022 - 0 min read.


Snowden’s autobiography chronicles his early days with technology, computers, and hacking, as well as his ancestry and its history of public service. He takes us through his journey to answer the call to serve his country after 9/11 in the military, the Intelligence Community, and what ultimately led him to disclose the government’s biggest secret.

My take

The book is a fascinating recount of just how the US Intelligence Community works, and to what lengths it went to surveil every aspect of everyone’s lives. Snowden’s disclosures were influential, and in some cases paramount, to digital privacy legislation throughout the world, codified protections for whistleblowers, and more.

For me, the biggest surprise reading this book was learning just how deeply Snowden believes in the core principles and rights of the US Constitution. Being almost the exact same age as him, to the day, also meant this book hit a particular nerve; many of his experiences during the early internet were identical to mine.

Favorite highlights

  • I had hoped to serve my country, but instead I went to work for it. This is not a trivial distinction.
  • The freedom of a country can only be measured by its respect for the rights of its citizens, and it’s my conviction that these rights are in fact limitations of state power that define exactly where and when a government may not infringe into that domain of personal or individual freedoms that during the American Revolution was called “liberty” and during the Internet Revolution is called “privacy.” Ultimately, the privacy of our data depends on the ownership of our data. There is no property less protected, and yet no property more private.
  • The cables and satellites, the servers and towers—so much of the infrastructure of the Internet is under US control that over 90 percent of the world’s Internet traffic passes through technologies developed, owned, and/ or operated by the American government and American businesses, most of which are physically located on American territory.
  • Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.
  • Together, PRISM (collection from the servers of service providers) and upstream collection (direct collection from Internet infrastructure) ensured that the world’s information, both stored and in transit, was surveillable.
  • The constitutional system only functions as a whole if and when each of its three branches works as intended. When all three don’t just fail, but fail deliberately and with coordination, the result is a culture of impunity.
  • Who among us can predict the future? Who would dare to? The answer to the first question is no one, really, and the answer to the second is everyone, especially every government and business on the planet.
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