Edward Snowden made an appearance via video before a live audience in San Francisco on Sunday (26 February) to talk about the state of security and privacy under the Trump administration and to highlight the important role whistleblowers play in a democracy. Snowden was joined by former US military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
In an interview with KQED's Scott Shafer, Snowden also spoke about his life in Russia, where he now resides under asylum. Both Ellsberg and Snowden also attempted to highlight the silver linings of the Trump administration, in sparking heightened awareness among the American people about policies and rights.
Ellsberg referred to the recent airport protests in resistance to President Donald Trump's travel ban, calling them "encouraging", while Snowden commented on the post-election protests and the rise in donations to the ACLU, deeming them as signs of people learning how to "resist injustice" effectively.
Snowden said, "People are realizing afresh that democracy is not an inheritance," said Snowden. "I see the seed being planted and the very first shoots ... we will see dark days ahead but ... we will learn again what it means to resist injustice and how to do so effectively."
Snowden and Ellsberg on the Trump administration
"When you look at the situation of this White House, of this administration, their relationship to the press, their policy positions. ... These are all callbacks to a time when domestically and internationally our lives were fraught with the insecurity and instability that we thought we left behind and should've left behind," said Snowden.
Ellsberg also commented about the recent spate of leaks from the White House, expressing his concerns over the reactions from the administration. "It'll be very interesting to see with these leak investigations that are going on now just exactly what Donald J. Trump's people and Jeff Sessions do with the [security] capabilities they just inherited from Barack Obama," Ellsberg said.
Commenting on the important roles whistleblowers play, Snowden added, "You do not have to be the president to make a difference. Whistleblowers are elected by circumstance. ... Do what you can if you see injustice. Stand up and say something. It's not enough to believe in something. If you want to see a better world, you must do something to achieve it."
Life in Russia
Snowden also spoke about his life in Russia, adding that he enjoys a sense of anonymity in most places and regularly rides the metro. However, there are still certain places where he can get easily recognised, for instance, computer stores.
"In my situation, I don't want a lot of my day-to-day to be known," he said. "I don't want my persona to follow me home ... One of the places I used to go very frequently is now much riskier for me, and that would be computer stores."
When asked about the chances of him getting snatched by the CIA, the NSA whistleblower indicated that it was a possibility. "It's always a possibility. Much earlier on, it was much more realistic," he added.
Snowden also claimed that leaking the NSA's classified information was "worth it", even facing the likely prospect of never being able to return to the US. "I would do it again, and I would do it sooner," he said. When asked what he envisioned for himself 20 years down the line, he responded, "Everyone wants a happy ending," adding that what happened to him was not nearly as important as what happened to America, in relation to preserving its liberty and freedom.