EP/Snowden – Mass surveillance the greatest human-rights challenge of our time

Edward Snowden’s speech (on paper) to the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties (LIBE) committee on 30th April 2013.

I thank the European Parliament and the LIBE Committee for taking up the challenge of mass surveillance. The surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time.

The success of economies in developed nations relies increasingly on their creative output, and if that success is to continue, we must remember that creativity is the product of curiosity, which is in turn the product of privacy. A culture of secrecy has denied our societies the opportunity to determine the appropriate balance between the human right of privacy and the governmental interest in investigation.

These are not decisions that should be made for a people, but only by the people after full, informed, and fearless debate. Yet public debate is not possible without public knowledge, and in my country, the cost for one in my position of returning public knowledge to public hands has been persecution and exile. If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely upon individual sacrifice. We must create better channels for people of conscience to inform not only trusted agents of government, but independent representatives of the public outside of government.

When I began my work, it was with the sole intention of making possible the debate we see occurring here in this body and in many others around the world. Today we see legislative bodies forming new committees, calling for investigations, and proposing new solutions for modern problems. We see emboldened courts that are no longer afraid to consider critical questions of national security. We see brave executives remembering that if a public is prevented from knowing how they are being governed, the necessary result is that they are no longer self-governing. And we see the public reclaiming an equal seat at the table of government.

The work of a generation is beginning here, with your hearings, and you have the full measure of my gratitude and support.