What Snowden said about democracy

(N.B.: Since someone already commented elsewhere, to be clear, I absolutely and completely support asylum for Edward Snowden. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything or even anything he says or does).

There’s a somewhat odious quote floating around from Edward Snowden that was tweeted, then expanded by the Guardian, but both come up short. I compared the Guardian‘s quote against the video here; here’s what he actually said (1:09:35):

“…Maybe the people of New Zealand think that’s appropriate. Maybe they think that they want to sacrifice a certain measure of their liberty and say, ‘It’s okay if the government watches me, I’m concerned about terrorism, I’m concerned about foreign threats.’ We can have people in each country make that decision because that’s what democracy’s about, that’s what self-government’s about, but that decision doesn’t belong to John Key or officials in the GCSB making these decisions behind closed doors without public debate, without public consent. That decision belongs exclusively to the people of that country and I think it’s wrong [applause] I think it’s wrong of him, of any politician, to take away the public seat at the table of government and say ‘you’ll just have to trust us’…”

Later, at 1:15:43, he says “It doesn’t matter, necessarily, if there’s mass surveillance in New Zealand if the people say they want it…”

I disagree vehemently. There are reasons that certain protections for democracy exist. Although several friends have told me that this is an unacceptable comparison (and I admit, legally speaking, it’s not ideal), I’m going to use it anyway: Is it okay if, by democratic vote, the people of Saudi Arabia vote to continue oppressing women by banning them from driving or wearing what they please? Is it only unacceptable because the decision is made behind closed doors, in the same way that New Zealand’s decisions about surveillance are?

Here’s perhaps a better comparison: If the people of, let’s say, Egypt vote for censorship, does that make censorship acceptable? If the people of the United States decide tomorrow to ban pornography, does that make it okay?

Absolutely, unequivocally no.

*edited to add: As Tarzie points out, this isn’t the first time Snowden has made such a statement.

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