Book Review: Permanent Record - Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, the former analyst at the CIA and NSA, has published his autobiography documenting his life from growing up in North Carolina and Fort Meade to his present exile in Russia. I enjoyed his reminiscence of how he became fascinated and obsessed with computers and the internet as a child, and how the knowledge he obtained from the digital world was more valuable and enriching than anything he learned at school, which I empathised with on many levels. I also share his sentiment that the web has lost a lot of the charm and liberty that existed before the rise of the avaricious internet tech giants.

Snowden takes us through how his perception of working for the government changed from patriotism and a desire to help his country, compelling him to join the army in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, through to skepticism and horror of the flagrant abuse of the right to privacy enshrined in the fourth amendment of the American constitution. He talks openly about his career at the intelligence services, sharing both technical and personal details, including how he managed to get top secret documents out without anyone noticing. He doesn’t reveal the full details so that “the NSA will still exist tomorrow” but says he achieved it by encrypting the files and transferring them onto a micro SD card which was small enough to hide and if found by security, for example at the bottom of a bag or coat pocket, he would likely be forgiven by claiming to have misplaced it.

Whenever Snowden discusses the technical aspects he does so in a clear and unpatronising manner, making it accessible and enjoyable for both technical and non technical readers alike. His openness in describing his personal life including his parent’s divorce, childhood crushes, meeting his girlfriend online, and battling epilepsy, portrays him as a likeable, modest, and stoic man who’s remarkable courage to upend his life in the pursuit of telling the truth is revealed in this remarkable and fascinating book.

If you are interested in setting up your own Tor bridge, as Snowden mentions this a couple of times in the book, then there are some good instructions here.

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