Permanent Record

Permanent Record

I poured over this book and finished it in less than a day. I enjoyed this book and understand his narrative and stance. I’m not an IT person but his explanation and description of the mechanics of the internet and surveillance technology was presented in a digestible readable form.

“If at any point during your journey through this book you paused for a moment over a term you wanted to clarify or investigate further and typed it into a search engine – and if that therm happened to be in some way suspicious, a term like XKEYSCORE, for example -then congrats: you’re in the system, a victim of your own curiosity. But even if you didn’t search for anything online, it wouldn’t take much for an interested government to find out that you’ve been reading this book.”

I loved how Snowden described the early internet, Web 1.0 and it made me laugh to myself. I share a bit in his nostalgia for the internet 1.0, where the internet was less vindictive and poisonous, where it was just simple and fun (cue dancing hamster .gif).

Favourite excerpts from the book:

  • I was fascinated by the thought that one individual programmer could code something universal, something bound by no laws or rules or regulations except those essential reducible to cause and effect. There was an utterly logical relationship between my input and the output…I’d never before experienced anything so consistent and fair, so unequivocally unbiased. A computer would wait forever to receive my command but would process it the very moment I hit Enter, no questions asked. No teacher had ever been so patient yet so responsive. Nowhere else-certainly not at school and not even at home, had I ever felt so in control. That perfectly written set of commands would perfectly execute the same operations time and again would come to seem to me, the one stable saving truth of our generation.
  • Because in those days, when you told a computer to connect, you were setting of fan entire process wherein the computer would beep and hiss like a traffic jam of snakes, after which – and it could take lifetimes, or at least whole minutes, you could pick up any other phone in the house on the extension line and actually hear the computers talking.
  • Back then, being online was another life, considered by most to be separate and distinct from Real life. The virtual and the actual had not yet merged. And it was up to each individual user to determine for themselves where one ended and the other begin.
  • It was precisely this that was so inspiring: the freedom to imagine something entirely new, the freedom to start over. Whatever Web 1.0 might have lacked in user-friendliness and design sensibility, it more than made up for my its fostering of experimentation and originality of expression and by its emphasis on the creative primacy of the individual. A typical GeoCities site for example might have a flashing background that alternated between green and blue, with white text scrolling like an exclamatory chyron across the middle – READ THIS FIRST!!!- below the .gif a dancing hamster. But to me, all these kludgy quirks and tics of amateur production merely indicated that the guiding intelligence behind the site was human and unique.
  • In the 1990s, the internet had yet to fall victim to the greatest iniquity in digital history: the move by both government and businesses to link, as intimately as possible, users online personas to their offline legal identity. Kids used to be able to go online and say the dumbest things one day without having to be held accountable for them the next. This might not strike you as the healthiest environment in which to grow up, and yet it is precisely the only environment in which you can grow up – by which I mean that the early Internet’s dissociative opportunities actually encouraged me and those of my generation to change our most deeply held opinions, instead of just digging in and defending them when challenged. This ability to reinvent ourselves meant that we never had to close our minds by picking sides or close ranks out of fear of doing irreparable harm to our reputations.
  • This, to my thinking, actually represented the great nexus of the Intelligence Community and the tech industry: both are entrenched and unelected powers that pride themselves on maintaining absolute secrecy about their developments. Both believe that they have the solutions for everything, which they never hesitate to unilaterally impose. Above all, they both believe that these solutions are inherently apolitical, because they are based on data, whose prerogatives are regarded as preferable to the chaotic whims of the common citizen.
  • Our data wanders far and wide. Our data wanders endlessly. We start generating this data before we are born, when technologies detect us in the utero, and our data will continue to proliferate even after we die. Of course, our consciously created memories, the records that we choose to keep, comprise just a silver of the information that has been wrung out of our lives – most of it unconsciously, or without our consent – by business and government surveillance. We are the first people in the history of the plant for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence. This is why we have a special duty. We must ensure that these records of our pasts can’t be turned against us or turned against our children.

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