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Book Review: Permanent Record

Permanent Record

Permanent Record

by Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance, reveals for the first time the story of his life, including how he helped to build that system and what motivated him to try to bring it down.

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I had heard of the Edward Snowden case back in 2013, obviously through the media and the hype that surrounded the case back case then. However, I have to be honest at the time I didn't really pay that much attention to it and I can't really remember why.

I do though remember the polarising views people had of him. Some people regarded as a hero and others very much as a villain. There appeared to be no in between.

It was only after, I read Mindf*ck: Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World , did I actually really start to take interest in the case again. If I recall correctly, it was because Wylie had mentioned it, which prompted me to research the case little more to understand it. It was also around the time, when I became more interested and concerned with Internet Privacy and started to gain an understanding at just how toxic social media had become.


Inside Cambridge Analytica's Plot to Break the World

whistleblower Christopher Wylie, the definitive story of the Brexit coup, the making of Bannon's America, and an ongoing crime against democracy

If you are unfamiliar with the Edward Snowden case, it basically about the then 29-year-old computer technologist who was working for the National Security Agency (NSA) as contractor in Hawaii, who disappeared from his job claiming medical issues and then flew to Hong Kong, with 1.5 Millions pages of classified documents that he subsequently released to UK Guardian and the Washington Post.

The documents revealed, among other things, that the NSA, claiming authority under the 2001 Patriot Act, had been systematically collecting telephone and internet data on virtually every American—an activity condemned by its critics as blatantly unconstitutional as well as outrageous.

Why I read this book

I really wanted to learn more about the Edward Snowden case and ideally not from the media perspective, which is as I have come to appreciate not entirely unbiased. I was pleased when I discovered that it was also around the time that I was searching for information, that Edward Snowden had also published this book! It was almost as if the universe had aligned.

What better way, to learn about the case than from the man that was at the centre of it. If nothing else I felt, that I would at least get his perspective of it and I suppose then I could correlate that with what the the media and governments would like me to understand.

What I like about this book

This book, written by Edward Snowden himself, and for the most part is fairly well written, intelligent, informative, and entertaining. It reads like you're sitting down listening to someone tell his life story.

I'm not normally a fan of Autobiographical books, and have only read a handful of them which include Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela , Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way , Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker and the Dave Grohl Story.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I could tell the writing style was not entirely polished, which in my opinion adds to authenticity of the book.

The first 82 pages recount his fairly unremarkable childhood, which initially one may find a little self indulgent, and you may think to yourself that this guy is not different to yourself, which to be honest probably is the whole point. He also illustrates that his entire family for generations have served their country in some capacity or another.  His grandfather worked for the FBi, his father for the Coast Guard and hist mother for the NSA.

It is from this that one learns that the Snowden family, are in all unlikelihood a very patriotic and probably very much somewhat of a standard All-American family.

Once you're through the formative parts of his life, the provides more background on what led him to make the ultimate decision to take documents from the NSA facility in Hawaii where he was working. This is where the title becomes akin to a spy thriller. If the revelations that came from Snowden were explosive, his recounting of their disclosure is a crescendo. Everything builds to the moments where he anxiously waited for journalists to arrive at his hotel room to hand over the top secret documents and the subsequent rush to find a safe location, involving a brush with Russia's FSB, in the aftermath of their disclosure.

What I learned from this book

Months before Snowden's disclosures, the CIA's then chief technology officer Ira 'Gus' Hunt gave a speech at a tech conference in New York. The slides and presentation, which anyone could attend for $40 (£32), said the CIA was collecting all information and keep it forever. "It is nearly within our grasp to compute on all human generated information," is a quote from the presentation.

Snowden says the talk was barely covered by the press at the time and the video, where journalists were told their smartphones could be tracked when they were turned off and all communications captured, was only viewed a handful of times on YouTube. This talk is also the source of the title of he book.

Cloud computing has almost become ubiquitous: personal and business related files are stored within centrally owned storage systems (think Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft's OneDrive. They're convenient for users as files have become accessible anywhere. However, Snowden warns there is little thought given to the passing on of our data. "When we choose to store our data online, we're often ceding our claim to it," Snowden writes. "Companies can decided what type of data they will hold for us, and can willfully delete any data they object to".

Why I recommend this book

From this book, I concluded, as I'm sure you will too that the biggest danger is still yet to come. The advancement and refinement or Artificial Intelligence, which is used in everything from Google's search engines, Mobile Phone Facial Recognition, your Netflix movie recommendation engine and even your Amazon shopping cart is one of Snowdens biggest concerns.

Surveillance cameras act like an "automated police officer," hunting suspicious activity without being prompted to. Snowden talks of a vision where all laws could be enforced by automated systems, which lack context and treat everything as a black-and-white scenario.


I totally recommend this book and I suggest it be read along with Mindf*ck: Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World , The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power  and then I will leave it up to you to decide whether you think Edward Snowden is a hero or villain.

Gary Woodfine
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