Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor who spilled some of the deepest secrets of the US government’s electronic surveillance operations, has written a memoir. Permanent Record, published by MacMillan Publishers’ imprint Metropolitan Books, will go on sale on September 17, and it’s now available for pre-orders—as Snowden himself announced via his Twitter account today.
Snowden’s memoir will be released simultaneously in more than 20 countries, and pre-orders are available in the US, the United Kingdom, and Germany. According to a Metropolitan spokesperson, “In Permanent Record, [Snowden] tells his story for the very first time, bringing the reader along as he helps to create [NSA’s] system of mass surveillance, and then experiences the crisis of conscience that led him to try to bring it down.”
In a statement on the book, MacMillan CEO John Sargent said:
Edward Snowden decided at the age of 29 to give up his entire future for the good of his country. He displayed enormous courage in doing so, and like him or not, his is an incredible American story. There is no doubt that the world is a better and more private place for his actions. Macmillan is enormously proud to publish Permanent Record.
Snowden still faces prosecution in the United States. And despite Sargent’s assertions, his legacy is up for debate.
Many of the surveillance capabilities Snowden sought to expose as illegal have now been codified in US law. While phone call metadata is no longer directly collected by the NSA, the agency still has access to the data through phone companies, and broad Internet surveillance continues. The NSA has dropped “about” surveillance gathering under Section 702 of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act—this initiative was collecting Internet traffic where specified identifiers are part of the content of messages, rather than related to the sender or recipient. But that ending appears to be largely due to technical issues, not because of any change in law. As an NSA spokesperson said in April 2017:
After considerable evaluation of the program and available technology, NSA has decided that its Section 702 foreign intelligence surveillance activities will no longer include any upstream Internet communications that are solely “about” a foreign intelligence target… These changes are designed to retain the upstream collection that provides the greatest value to national security while reducing the likelihood that NSA will acquire communications of US persons or others who are not in direct contact with one of the Agency’s foreign intelligence targets.
While Snowden has been praised and supported by civil liberties advocates over the last five years, he has been excoriated by others who believe he did more damage to the US’ national security than good for US citizens’ privacy.
Last year, when interviewed about Snowden’s legacy, whistleblower advocate and national security lawyer Mark Zaid told Ars, “If he had only released the Verizon FISA order [regarding phone metadata collection],” he would have achieved just as much in affecting US surveillance policy. “He’d [still] be here in the US, and probably be in the US working for Google or Amazon, and writing a book,” Zaid added.
Well, now Snowden has written that book. He remains in exile in Moscow.