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Permanent Record

Permanent Record

Edward Snowden


The story of a dissident. In Snowden's telling he dissented for entirely principled reasons having found evidence of illegal wiretapping and other activities on the part of his employer, the NSA. And it's certainly true that many subsequent events bear out his story, as Congress has shut down or otherwise controlled the activities he revealed – but without pardoning or exonerating the whistleblower.

It's a story that could only happen in America, though, and some americana show through (for Valentine's Day he buys his girlfriend "the revolver she's always wanted"). But it's really a story of conscience followed to its logical conclusion, regardless of the personal consequences. And even having finished the book it's hard to really know what drove Snowden's actions: sacrificing everything to a principle of liberty that he felt wasn't being upheld seems somehow inadequate.

There's a broader message here too, to do with how the privatisation of government has affected the behaviour and loyalty of the people involved. A system where you can leave government services, become a contractor, and earn ten times the money for the same job in the same facility alongside the same people – simply to reduce the headline staff cost (by replacing it with an enormously larger contracting cost). It's a recipe for self-serving, and also for moving government-developed technology and approaches into the private sector for private profit.

4/5. Finished 01 October 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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