Even though Edward Snowden is in exile in Moscow, he’s still hard at work — although he won’t reveal what exactly he is working on quite yet because he believes in being judged on the results.
Whatever he’s working on, the former NSA contractor who exposed controversial US surveillance practices, says it’s much tougher than his last gig.
“The fact is I was getting paid an extraordinary amount of money for very little work with very little in the way of qualifications. That’s changed significantly,” Snowden said in an event at Stanford University on Friday, via teleconference from Moscow. “I have to work a lot harder to do the same thing. The difference is that, even though I’ve lost a lot, I have a tremendous sense of satisfaction.”
Snowden talked about the ethics of whistle-blowing and what his life is like in Russia now.
Just last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s massive collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal — a victory for Snowden, who revealed the existence of the surveillance program in the documents he leaked to the press. Some of the other documents that Snowden leaked, relating to US hacking of China, have sparked criticism that he crossed the line from whistleblowing to treason.
Snowden said in the teleconference that he worked with reporters so that there could be a system of checks and balances, and noted that he did not publish a single document himself. Still, he couldn’t leak his secrets anonymously to the reporters because his colleagues’ livelihoods would have been at risk as well if the NSA conducted a witch-hunt, Snowden said.
“Whistleblowers are elected by circumstance. Nobody self nominates to be a whistleblower because it’s so painful,” Snowden said. “Your lives are destroyed whether you are right or wrong. This is not something people sign up for.”
Snowden emphasised that he doesn’t see himself as a hero or a traitor, but he had just reached the tipping point where he needed to do something.
“You have to have a greater commitment to justice than a fear of the law,” Snowden said. “We all have a limit of injustice, of incivility, of inhumanity in our daily life that we can kind of accept and ignore. We turn our eyes away from the beggar on the street. We also have a breaking point and when people find that, they act.”