Mirror to the new world order: Edward Snowden's Permanent Record
Edward Snowden’s ‘Permanent Record’ forces our unquestioning, and detached approach to the changes around us and compels us to look at every development and decision of the government, and its impact on our lives with a more objective view
'We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity' – Edward Snowden quotes John Perry Barlow's 'A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace', which is in stark difference to what Snowden would discover over the years he worked with the Government of USA, for NSA. He eventually became a whistleblower and was tried for espionage, when he decided to let the world know of the mass surveillance, where the US government could spy on every person using the internet across the world.
There were many books, some biographies, few by the journalists who met him, like the 'Snowden Files' by Luke Harding and 'No Place to Hide' by Glenn Greenwald; all discuss the man and his revelations, and the aftermath in many lengths. 'Permanent Record' is a memoir of an ordinary US youngster, who grew up in a non-invasive world, where the internet was the new obsession, and the sound of the modem connecting over a telephone line was like opening a window to the world. This was still the time when 'you could wake up every morning and pick a new name and a new face by which to be known to the world…' Internet was more forgiving and forgetful, unlike today, when the government and businesses do everything possible to link you offline legal identity to your online persona, says Snowden, who eventually was going to learn how unethical and unlawful is this business of monitoring people's activities online, which is usually done under the pretext of national security, a system that he would significantly contribute to build.
His family was in government service and he had grown up to love his country unconditionally, develop his individual politics, and organically develop hacker's anti-institutional ethos, that would all be wiped out and he, like the entire country, would be swept away in anger-driven passion, post 9/11. He reflects on how the US could have done so much with the opportunity when the entire country was unified with a renewed sense of patriotism, and the country had the sympathy of the world. He believes the act of terrorism could have been viewed for what it was, a crime, instead of treating it as a theological phenomenon. Instead, it went to war, and like many in his country he too was taken in by the collective desire for vengeance, which he was conditioned to believe was for the national good. And like many his age, Edward Snowden enrolled in the army and was to fight a war on terrorism, if it was not for an injury during the training. He returned home, and the same sense of wanting to do something for his country led him to seek employment in the secret service.
'Permanent Record' is the mandatory file that reaches the intelligence department. A dossier with every possible detail of an individual that would decide if he is good enough to join the service or not. In this book, Snowden too relates about every phase of his life, as a small kid enamoured by the computer games, parents and their influence on him, going on a self-discovery mode, when he begins to explore the internet, learns to hack websites like many youngsters, his education, love life, his entry into the most confidential department, and his experiences of working for the same. The memoir also talks about his journey of discovering himself, his beliefs and principles of life that he had imbibed through growing years that were constantly questioned in the real world, and his growing sense of right and wrong that would eventually make him choose to do what he did despite being aware of the consequences. And, in doing so he creates a record of how the world has transformed, how lives have changed, how the working culture in government departments has changed, and what goes on behind the closed doors, and its impact on the citizens of a country, any country, not just the US. This makes 'Permanent Record' not just a memoir, but a mirror to the world that we live in. While we as humans are driven by passions, that we assume is our own conscious, reacting to events, there are larger forces at work; the government, media, and large business houses that contribute to collective conditioning, leading us to believe in what they want us to believe. And all this, while we are constantly being monitored, our every action, likes, dislikes, desires, our indulgences…
'Permanent Record' calls for extensive reading and every line in this 336-page book is worth its while. It forces our unquestioning, and detached approach to the changes around us and compels us to look at every development around us, decisions of the government, and the impact on our lives with a more objective view. And wherever there is complexity, be it a technical reference or jargon, Snowden goes on to explain the process in detail with analogies, making it easy for every reader to understand and reflect. This tell-all by Edward Snowden is an important book, to not just understand his actions, it is also in its own way a whistleblower to the new order of the world, especially with the internet becoming more and more powerful.