Book Review: Permanent Record

Permanent Record (2019) is Edward Snowden’s autobiography. At least that’s what it felt like to me. He shares his story of how he grew up all the way to the leaked documents. Just in case you are not aware of who he is, he basically was a government spy. He signed up for the CIA as a computer guy. While he was working, he discovered that the government was carrying out massive surveillance of the american public without any oversight.

Not Too Dense

Snowden does a great job of explaining what the government agencies have been doing without anyone’s knowledge. They have been collecting data and meta-data on everyone in the U.S. The reader is taken through a list of programs designed to collect information on the general public.

What’s The Big Deal?

Some people might say “What’s the big deal? The government needs to do what it needs to do to keep us safe. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.” Some of you reading this might agree with this statement, but I recommend you understand what the government is doing before you form an opinion. Government agencies have been collecting information on you for a while now. They can access your email, conversations and they can find out who your friends are. This is not information on someone being suspected of terrorist activities, this information is being gathered on everyone. I think this is a huge problem for the american public. People are giving up their right to privacy just to feel safe. This is a huge deal. I understand that there might be a chance that some terrorist plot might be thwarted through the use of this information, but there hasn’t been any report by the government as to the efficacy of their actions. So the question stands, if these programs are not yielding any results, why are they collecting data?

Governments Are People

Imagine the impact if the government decided to act on the information it collected. No system is perfect, people make mistakes. Can you imagine if you trusted a government employee with your privacy? Just picture that. I mean…have you ever been to the DMV? Have you seen how that little snippet of government runs? Would you trust them with your most sensitive information? Maybe gathering information is not such a big deal, but shouldn’t you be notified that your information is being gathered? Why have they been hiding these programs for so long? People make mistakes all the time; systems make mistakes all the time. I know a friend of mine who has to carry a letter from the state department explaining to the airlines that he’s not a terrorist. He just happens to have the same name as a well-known terrorist. To this day, he has to continue doing this because he still gets detained whenever he travels.

The Ethics Of Whistleblowing

I liked this book because it made me think about a topic I haven’t thought about before this. What should be done with whistleblowers? I understand that the documents Snowden released were considered secret and it might have a detrimental effect on national security, but what would have happened if he hadn’t come forward? Should we punish him for revealing the actions of an overreaching government? I believe ethics trump laws. We all celebrate whenever a whistleblower lets everyone know of abuses committed by a company, why can’t we do the same with government employees? Are people who work for the intelligence agencies above the law? This is the conversation the american public should be having. These are the questions we should be asking of our government.

Final Thoughts

I liked this book. Snowden made a complicated issue and explained it in a simple way. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about how the CIA works. Also, I learned from the book that the programs will start to gather data about anyone remotely associated with Edward Snowden. So, if you’re reading this, congratulations! You’re on the grid.

Ezra Carias is an author. You can find out about his latest book here.

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