One of the mistakes when questioning what Edward Snowden did, is that it is often framed in a yes or no framework. Questions like “was Snowden a patriot or a traitor?” and “was he right or wrong?” are ill-chosen given the complexity of what he did and exposed. In Beyond Snowden: Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA (Brookings Institution Press 978-0815730637) author Timothy Edgar has written an interesting book which exhorts people to, as the title notes, move beyond Snowden.
For those that want to know how bad the NSA trampled on the US Constitution and the privacy of its citizens, Jennifer Stisa Granick articulately detailed those horrors in American Spies: Modern Surveillance, Why You Should Care, and What to Do About It, which I reviewed last year here.
Timothy Edgar is now a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies and Public Affairs at Brown University. Before that, he was the first director of privacy and civil liberties for the White House National Security Staff at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) during the Obama administration. There, he focused on cyber security, open government, surveillance, and data privacy. Edgar comes with an interesting pedigree, as he was an ACLU lawyer before he started working for the US intelligence community.
In the book, Edgar notes that its time to move beyond Snowden as the battle over what he did has obscured the fact that he thinks now the NSA and its critics generally agree on much more than they realize. The dynamic changed things, to the degree that the NSA and overall surveillance community know that they can no longer operate in the cowboy manner they did in the years before Snowden.
As a former ACLU lawyer, he understands the need to reign in on wholesale government surveillance of its citizens. And as someone who worked in the inner sanctum of the intelligence community, he clearly understands that strong and effective intelligence is key to national security.
In the 12 chapters of the book, Edgar does a good job of the problems of mass surveillance, and his approach to fixing it. The book highlights the inherent tension between national security and personal freedom. Edgar offers no simply solutions, as he knows there are none. He closes with 14 suggestions to ensure serious surveillance reform keeps progressing post-Snowden. It’s hard to see all of these 14 happening in totality, yet steps are being made to fix the past crimes of the surveillance community, and move beyond Snowden.