American whistleblower Edward Snowden has been keeping a low profile since going into exile in Russia in August. Now he's back in the public eye, with both a new interview and a Christmas message for the world.
What do Pope Francis, German President Joachim Gauck and the American "whistleblower" Edward Snowden have in common? This year all three of them have broadcast a Christmas message in which they reflect on their own actions and those of their fellow human beings. Pope Francis did so at the Christmas Eve Mass in the Vatican, Joachim Gauck on German television, and Snowden's forum was the British television broadcaster Channel 4.
For the past 20 years, Channel 4 has broadcast an "alternative" Christmas message as part of its program. It's always an unusual speech by people from whom one would not necessarily expect a Christmas message, such as the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2008.
Comparison with Orwell's '1984'
Snowden's television address was his first appearance in several months. The pre-recorded video was broadcast on Wednesday (25.12.2013) at 5.15 p.m. UK time. In it, Snowden warned viewers about the risks inherent in the way we use modern technology.
"A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all," he said. "They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem, because privacy matters."
He reminded us that, this year, we learned that governments had introduced a system of mass surveillance that watches everything we do.
Snowden also pointed out that the writer George Orwell warned decades ago - in his science fiction novel "1984"- about the dangers of this kind of mass gathering of information; but he added that the cameras installed by Orwell's "Big Brother" were nothing compared to what is going on today.
Referring to the worldwide spread of smartphones with GPS sensors, the whistleblower warned: "We have sensors in our pockets that follow us wherever we go."
Snowden wanted to 'improve' the NSA
On Tuesday Snowden broke his silence with an extended interview conducted from his Russian exile. He spoke to a journalist from the American newspaper the Washington Post over two days in Moscow, and took stock of the surveillance scandal he initiated by leaking classified documents of the US National Security Agency.
"For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission's already accomplished. I already won," he said, meaning that he had succeeded in his aim of generating a public debate. "All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed."
Snowden said he has been less worried about the personal consequences the revelations would have for him, and more that they would fail to galvanize people into action.
A few days ago (20.12.2013), US President Barack Obama said at a press conference in the White House that Snowden had caused the United States "unnecessary damage." Snowden indirectly refuted this in the interview: "I am still working for the NSA right now," he said. "They are the only ones who don't realize it."
Snowden seems to care about the United States' reputation in other countries. In the interview he specifically mentioned Germany, where the spying scandal had a particular impact . There was outrage across the political spectrum at the revelation that Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone had been tapped by the US authorities.
"It's the deception of the government that's revealed," Snowden stressed. "The U.S. government said: 'We follow German laws in Germany. We never target German citizens.'" However, it subsequently became clear that even the chancellor had been spied on, and Snowden has no doubt as to the implications for the US government. He addressed it directly in the interview: "You just lied to the entire country, in front of Congress," he said.
In his Christmas TV message Snowden exhorted the viewers to take such matters up with their governments: "Remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying. Merry Christmas!"