(Photo by Danielle Corcione)
“2013 was not about surveillance, it was about democracy,” explained former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on a simulcast at the Parkway Central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia Monday night.
Jeremy Scahill, cofounder of investigative publication The Intercept, moderated the night’s conversation.
At the very start of the event, Scahill entertained a handful of silly questions the audience wanted to ask Snowden, inquiring about Donald Trump’s search history, Snowden’s favorite cheesesteak recipe (hint: it contains mayonnaise) and if he knew there was a cannabis strain in Colorado named after him.
Then the questions quickly got serious.
On the Patriot Act
When asked if the Patriot Act should be repealed, Snowden replied, “The problem with the Patriot Act is that it’s so big.” He asked audience members to look at what the legislation has achieved since it was enacted. As of September 2011, 35,000 people all over the world had been charged with terrorism since 2001, according to NBC News, including those arrested “for waving a political sign or blogging about a protest.”
Additionally, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Patriot Act increased law enforcement’s digital surveillance powers, but “failed to ‘update’ the checks and balances needed to ensure those surveillance powers include proper judicial oversight.”
On Russian interference in the 2016 election
Did Russia intervene in the 2016 presidential election? “I don’t think Russia is that strong,” Snowden responded.
He emphasized the lack of evidence available on the scandal and especially criticized U.S. mainstream media for sensationalizing the allegations. However, if anything, he calls the recent election a “long overdue opportunity,” to where citizens can begin to realize the executive office has too much power without Congressional accountability.
And his take on the Putin administration?
Although Scahill pointed out and joked about the server’s sudden audio break up after Snowden muttered the word “Putin,” Snowden assured he’d already publicly criticized the Russian president on television and Twitter.
If he could go back in time, what he would’ve done differently? Snowden says he wished he questioned more a whole lot sooner.
During the Iraq war, he objected to war demonstrations because of his blind faith — a faith which he now admits should never be earned automatically by a government’s citizens — in the U.S government. However, the secret he discovered in Hawaii finally disrupted that trust and changed his life forever.
Scahill’s other questions related to the recent Equifax hacks and Hillary Clinton’s upcoming book tour.
“I was just a guy at a desk,” Snowden added. “Don’t wait. You will regret not doing something.”
Last month, Snowden co-authored a peer-reviewed academic paper with Andrew “bunnie” Huang titled “Against the Law: Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance” about smartphone emissions, especially in the context of digital security for journalists, activists and rights workers.