Permanent Record

Permanent Record

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

The Edward Snowden story had peaked before my political consciousness started to take shape, so I never really got what the whole fiasco was about. Therefore, I went into this autobiography with almost no background or context. For me, the overwhelming takeaway is that Snowden is just a normal guy who ended up doing something that normal guys don’t do. Of course, he is trying to portray himself in a certain light, but I’d say that I believe he just acted on what he perceived to be an injustice.

1) Snowden got his sense of mortality from Super Mario Bros.

This claim is probably mostly for the dramatic effect, but it’s true. Life is like Super Mario. It only goes in one direction.

2) Fort Meade is the home of the NSA.

In Anne Arundel County, 1 out of 4 people has a job linked to Fort Meade.

3) After 9/11, Snowden joined the army and was on track to be part of the 18 X-Ray special forces program. 

But he got hurt and was offered an “administrative separation,” meaning he wouldn’t get reassigned but also the army would not be liable. This part of his story got me thinking that Snowden was really just an ordinary guy who makes mistakes.

4) Snowden’s first contracting job at the CIA was through a subcontract at COMSO.

He talks a lot about how terrible the contracting system is. In particular, contractors operated on a cost-plus model such that everyone in the chain benefitted from higher salaries except for the taxpayer who had to fund the CIA.

5) Snowden trained to be a TISO (technical information security officer) and spent 6 months in a Comfort Inn.

This is a minor plot point, but it triggered murky memories of my 6 months at a Holiday Inn Express.

6) Tor stands for The Onion Router.

The Tor protocol relies on volunteers setting up servers all over the world. Traffic goes through many layers and is encrypted such that the origin is not aware of the destination and vice versa.

7) In Switzerland, driving fines are based on the driver’s income.

On paper, it sounds reasonable, but I’d have to read more on whether this works.

8) From his CIA gig in Geneva, Snowden then worked as a contractor for Dell (for NSA) in Tokyo and then Hawaii.

I appreciate that he – as someone who grew up in a Coast Guard household, then joined the army, then worked at the CIA, and then worked at the NSA – had a seemingly in-depth perspective on how different parts of the government fit together.

9) “Acquire” and “obtain” meant the act of retrieval from the database, not the act of data collection.

As a data scientist, I generally oppose the arguments on data presented in this book. That said, nothing is ever clear cut. Every single decision has its pros and cons, and it’s up to the people with power to act properly and to be held accountable.

10) “Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.”

This is the one idea that will stick with me the most. Paraphrasing, privacy is the freedom of the 21st century.

In the past couple years, I’ve started paying more attention to what a government is. I’m reminded of when we had to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address in 6th grade. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. To bring it all together, in the final chapters, Snowden talked about why he chose Hong Kong as his destination. Would he still choose it in 2019?


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