39 Quotes from Permanent Record book by Edward Snowden

Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the book - Permanent Record by Edward Snowden.

Permanent Record has been described as an extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online - a man who became a spy, a whistleblower, and, in exile, the Internet's conscience.

Introduction Quotes

I participated in the most significant change in the history of American espionage - the change from the targeted surveillance of individuals to the mass surveillance of entire populations. I helped make it technologically feasible for a single government to collect all the world's digital communications, store them for ages, and search through them at will. - Permanent Record, Introduction

My generation did more than reengineer the work of intelligence; we entirely redefined what intelligence was. For us, it was not about clandestine meetings or dead drops, but about data. - Permanent Data, Introduction

If most of what people wanted to do online was to be able to tell their family, friends, and strangers what they were up to, and to be told what their family, friends, and strangers were up to in return, then all companies had to do was figure out how to put themselves in the middle of those social exchanges and turn them into profit. This was the beginning of surveillance capitalism, and the end of the Internet as I knew it. - Permanent Record, Introduction

Aside from log-ins and financial transactions, hardly any online communications were encrypted in the early twenty-aughts, which meant that in many cases governments didn't even need to bother approaching the companies in order to know what their customers were doing. They could just spy on the world without telling a soul. The American government, in total disregard of its founding charter, fell victim to precisely this temptation, and once it had tasted the fruit of this poisonous tree it became gripped by an unrelenting fever. In secret, it assumed the power of mass surveillance, an authority that by definition afflicts the innocent far more than the guilty. - Permanent Record, Introduction

The creation of irreality has always been the Intelligence Community's darkest art. The same agencies that, over the span of my career alone, had manipulated intelligence to create a pretext for war - and used illegal policies and a shadow judiciary to permit kidnapping as "extraordinary rendition," torture as "enhanced interrogation," and mass surveillance as "bulk collection" - didn't hesitate for a moment to call me a Chinese double agent, a Russian triple agent, and worse: "a millennial." - Permanent Record, Introduction

Part 1 Quotes

Ours was now a country in which the cost of replacing a broken machine with a newer model was typically lower than the cost of having it fixed by an expert, which itself was typically lower than the cost of sourcing the parts and figuring out how to fix it yourself. This fact alone virtually guaranteed technological tyranny, which was perpetuated not by the technology itself but by the ignorance of everyone who used it daily and yet failed to understand it. To refuse to inform yourself about the basic operation and maintenance of the equipment you depended on was to passively accept that tyranny and agree to its terms: when your equipment works, you'll work, but when your equipment breaks down you'll break down, too. Your possessions would possess you. - Permanent Record, Chapter 2

I'm not a natural programmer, and I've never considered myself any good at it. But I did, over the next decade or so, become good enough to be dangerous. To this day, I still find the process magical: typing in the commands in all these strange languages that the processor then translates into an experience that's available not just to me but to everyone. I was fascinated by the thought that one individual programmer could code something universal, something bound by no laws or rules or regulations except those essentially reducible to cause and effect. - Permanent Record, Chapter 2

Internet access, and the emergence of the Web, was my generation’s big bang or Precambrian explosion. It irrevocably altered the course of my life, as it did the lives of everyone. From the age of twelve or so, I tried to spend my every waking moment online. Whenever I couldn’t, I was busy planning my next session. The Internet was my sanctuary; the Web became my jungle gym, my treehouse, my fortress, my classroom without walls. - Permanent Record, Chapter 4

All teenagers are hackers. They have to be, if only because their life circumstances are untenable. They think they're adults, but the adults think they're kids. Remember, if you can, your own teen years. You were a hacker, too, willing to do anything to evade parental supervision. Basically, you were fed up with being treated like a child. - Permanent Record, Chapter 5

This is the origin of all hacking: the awareness of a systemic linkage between input and output, between cause and effect. Because hacking isn't just native to computing - it exists wherever rules do. To hack a system requires getting to know its rules better than the people who created it or are running it, and exploiting all the vulnerable distance between how those people had intended the system to work and how it actually works, or could be made to work. In capitalizing on these unintentional uses, hackers aren't breaking the rules as much as debunking them. - Permanent Record, Chapter 5

You should always let people underestimate you. Because when people misappraise your intelligence and abilities, they're merely pointing out their own vulnerabilities - the gaping holes in their judgment that need to stay open if you want to cartwheel through later on a flaming horse, correcting the record with your sword of justice. - Permanent Record, Chapter 6

Nearly three thousand people died on 9/11. Imagine everyone you love, everyone you know, even everyone with a familiar name or just a familiar face - and imagine they're gone. Imagine the empty houses. Imagine the empty school, the empty classrooms. All those people you lived among, and who together formed the fabric of your days, just not there anymore. The events of 9/11 left holes. Holes in families, holes in communities. Holes in the ground. Now, consider this: over one million people have been killed in the course of America's response. - Permanent Record, Chapter 8

This might be the most familiar problem of my generation, the first to grow up online. We were able to discover and explore our identities almost totally unsupervised, with hardly a thought spared for the fact that our rash remarks and profane banter were being preserved for perpetuity, and that one day we might be expected to account for them. I'm sure everyone who had an Internet connection before they had a job can sympathize with this - surely everyone has that one post that embarrasses them, or that text or email that could get them fired. - Permanent Record, Chapter 10

It's a scary proposition, to take an online relationship off-line. [...] In my experience, the more you've communicated with someone online, the more disappointed you'll be by meeting them in person. Things that are the easiest to say on-screen become the most difficult to say face-to-face. Distance favors intimacy: no one talks more openly than when they're alone in a room, chatting with an unseen someone alone in a different room. Meet that person, however, and you lose your latitude. Your talk becomes safer and tamer, a common conversation on neutral ground. - Permanent Record, Chapter 10

Part 2 Quotes

It took me until my late twenties to finally understand that so much of what I believed, or of what I thought I believed, was just youthful imprinting. We learn to speak by imitating the speech of the adults around us, and in the process of that learning we wind up also imitating their opinions, until we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that the words we’re using are our own. - Permanent Record, Chapter 11

By the time I arrived, the sincerity of public service had given way to the greed of the private sector, and the sacred compact of the soldier, officer, and career civil servant was being replaced by the unholy bargain of Homo contractus, the primary species of US Government 2.0. This creature was not a sworn servant but a transient worker, whose patriotism was incentivized by a better paycheck and for whom the federal government was less the ultimate authority than the ultimate client. - Permanent Record, Chapter 12

You don't need to tell a bunch of computer whizzes that they possess superior knowledge and skills that uniquely qualify them to act independently and make decisions on behalf of their fellow citizens without any oversight or review. Nothing inspires arrogance like a lifetime spent controlling machines that are incapable of criticism. - Permanent Record, Chapter 13

The CIA was quite different from the other civilian agencies, even if, on paper, the regulations insisted it wasn't. And in an agency that did such important work, there was nothing more important than the chain of command. - Permanent Record, Chapter 14

The World Wide Web might have been invented in Geneva, at the CERN research laboratory in 1989, but the ways by which the Web is accessed are as American as baseball, which gives the American Intelligence Community the home field advantage. 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. - Permanent Record, Chapter 16

The fundamental rule of technological progress: if something can be done, it probably will be done, and possibly already has been. There was simply no way for America to have so much information about what the Chinese were doing without having done some of the very same things itself, and I had the sneaking sense while I was looking through all this China material that I was looking at a mirror and seeing a reflection of America. What China was doing publicly to its own citizens, America might be - could be - doing secretly to the world. - Permanent Record, Chapter 16

Law, which always lags behind technological innovation by at least a generation, gives substantially more protections to a communication's content than to its metadata - and yet intelligence agencies are far more interested in the metadata - the activity records that allow them both the "big picture" ability to analyze data at scale, and the "little picture" ability to make perfect maps, chronologies, and associative synopses of an individual person's life, from which they presume to extrapolate predictions of behavior. - Permanent Record, Chapter 16

Technology doesn't have a Hippocratic oath. So many decisions that have been made by technologists in academia, industry, the military, and government since at least the Industrial Revolution have been made on the basis of "can we," not "should we." And the intention driving a technology's invention rarely, if ever, limits its application and use. - Permanent Record, Chapter 16

When we choose to store our data online, we're often ceding our claim to it. Companies can decide what type of data they will hold for us, and can willfully delete any data they object to. Unless we've kept a separate copy on our own machines or drives, this data will be lost to us forever. If any of our data is found to be particularly objectionable or otherwise in violation of the terms of service, the companies can unilaterally delete our accounts, deny us our own data, and yet retain a copy for their own records, which they can turn over to the authorities without our knowledge or consent. 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. - Permanent Record, Chapter 16

Most of our lives, even if we don't realize it, occur not in black and white but in a gray area, where we jaywalk, put trash in the recycling bin and recyclables in the trash, ride our bicycles in the improper lane, and borrow a stranger's Wi-Fi to download a book that we didn't pay for. Put simply, a world in which every law is always enforced would be a world in which everyone was a criminal. - Permanent Record, Chapter 17

In an authoritarian state, rights derive from the state and are granted to the people. In a free state, rights derive from the people and are granted to the state. In the former, people are subjects, who are only allowed to own property, pursue an education, work, pray, and speak because their government permits them to. In the latter, people are citizens, who agree to be governed in a covenant of consent that must be periodically renewed and is constitutionally revocable. It's this clash, between the authoritarian and the liberal democratic, that I believe to be the major ideological conflict of my time - not some concocted, prejudiced notion of an East-West divide, or of a resurrected crusade against Christendom or Islam. - Permanent Record, Chapter 18

Authoritarian states are typically not governments of laws, but governments of leaders, who demand loyalty from their subjects and are hostile to dissent. Liberal-democratic states, by contrast, make no or few such demands, but depend almost solely on each citizen voluntarily assuming the responsibility of protecting the freedoms of everyone else around them, regardless of their race, ethnicity, creed, ability, sexuality, or gender. Any collective guarantee, predicated not on blood but on assent, will wind up favoring egalitarianism - and though democracy has often fallen far short of its ideal, I still believe it to be the one form of governance that most fully enables people of different backgrounds to live together, equal before the law. - Permanent Record, Chapter 18

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. Or that you don't care about freedom of the press because you don't like to read. Or that you don't care about freedom of religion because you don't believe in God. Or that you don't care about the freedom to peaceably assemble because you're a lazy, antisocial agoraphobe. Just because this or that freedom might not have meaning to you today doesn't mean that it doesn't or won't have meaning tomorrow, to you, or to your neighbor. - Permanent Record, Chapter 18

Part 3 Quotes

I liked reading the Constitution partially because its ideas are great, partially because its prose is good, but really because it freaked out my coworkers. In an office where everything you printed had to be thrown into a shredder after you were done with it, someone would always be intrigued by the presence of hard-copy pages lying on a desk. They'd amble over to ask, “What have you got there?" - Permanent Record, Chapter 21

America's Founders were skilled engineers of political power, particularly attuned to the perils posed by legal subterfuge and the temptations of the presidency toward exercising monarchical authority. To forestall such eventualities, they designed a system, laid out in the Constitution's first three articles, that established the US government in three coequal branches, each supposed to provide checks and balances to the others. But when it came to protecting the privacy of American citizens in the digital age, each of these branches failed in its own way, causing the entire system to halt and catch fire. - Permanent Record, Chapter 21

In organizations like the NSA - in which malfeasance has become so structural as to be a matter not of any particular initiative, but of an ideology - proper channels can only become a trap, to catch the heretics and disfavorables. [...] The chain of command is truly a chain that binds, and the lower links can only be lifted by the higher. - Permanent Record, Chapter 21

A "whistle-blower," in my definition, is a person who through hard experience has concluded that their life inside an institution has become incompatible with the principles developed in - and the loyalty owed to - the greater society outside it, to which that institution should be accountable. This person knows that they can't remain inside the institution, and knows that the institution can't or won't be dismantled. Reforming the institution might be possible, however, so they blow the whistle and disclose the information to bring public pressure to bear. - Permanent Record, Chapter 21

To truly get rid of a document you can't just destroy every copy of it. You also have to destroy every memory of it, which is to say you have to destroy all the people who remember it, along with every copy of all the other documents that mention it and all the people who remember all those other documents. And then, maybe, just maybe, it's gone. - Permanent Record, Chapter 24

Deletion is a dream for the surveillant and a nightmare for the surveilled, but encryption is, or should be, a reality for all. It is the only true protection against surveillance. If the whole of your storage drive is encrypted to begin with, your adversaries can't rummage through it for deleted files, or for anything else - unless they have the encryption key. [...] This is the ordering principle of encryption: all power to the key holder. - Permanent Record, Chapter 24

It's only in hindsight that I'm able to appreciate just how high my star had risen. I'd gone from being the student who couldn’t speak in class to being the teacher of the language of a new age, from the child of modest, middle-class Beltway parents to the man living the island life and making so much money that it had lost its meaning. In just the seven short years of my career, I'd climbed from maintaining local servers to crafting and implementing globally deployed systems - from graveyard-shift security guard to key master of the puzzle palace. - Permanent Record, Chapter 25

With my government having decided to charge me under the Espionage Act, I stood accused of a political crime, meaning a crime whose victim is the state itself rather than a person. Under international humanitarian law, those accused in this way are generally exempt from extradition [...]. In practice, of course, this is rarely the case, especially when the government that perceives itself wronged is America's. - Permanent Record, Chapter 27

If mass surveillance was, by definition, a constant presence in daily life, then I wanted the dangers it posed, and the damage it had already done, to be a constant presence too. Through my disclosures to the press, I wanted to make this system known, its existence a fact that my country, and the world, could not ignore. - Permanent Record, Chapter 29

A change in the law is infinitely more difficult to achieve than a change in a technological standard, and as long as legal innovation lags behind technological innovation institutions will seek to abuse that disparity in the furtherance of their interests. It falls to independent, open-source hardware and software developers to close that gap by providing the vital civil liberties protections that the law may be unable, or unwilling, to guarantee. - Permanent Record, Chapter 29

Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy. - Permanent Record, Chapter 29

If we don't act to reclaim our data now, our children might not be able to do so. Then they, and their children, will be trapped too - each successive generation forced to live under the data specter of the previous one, subject to a mass aggregation of information whose potential for societal control and human manipulation exceeds not just the restraints of the law but the limits of the imagination. - Permanent Record, Chapter 29

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