Edward Snowden's Christmas message: a child born today will have no conception of privacy

Increasing government surveillance is leaving us with less freedom to determine who we are and who we want to be, Snowden told UK TV viewers

"A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all," Edward Snowden warned Wednesday in a message broadcast to U.K. television viewers.

"They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought," said Snowden, famous for leaking documents from the U.S. National Security Agency that reveal just how much of what we say, write and do is already recorded and analyzed.

"That's a problem because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are, and who we want to be," Snowden said in "video message" recorded for Channel 4, a commercially funded public service broadcaster owned by the U.K. government.

The video, one minute 43 seconds in duration, was produced by Praxis Films, the production company of freelance journalist Laura Poitras, who has worked on a number of stories about NSA surveillance based on the documents Snowden leaked.

Channel 4 broadcast the video as The Alternative Christmas Message 2013, shortly after the BBC broadcast the Queen's traditional Christmas Message. The monarch's message has been a traditional feature of Christmas Day broadcasting since 1932, when the Queen's grandfather, King George V, delivered the first. Channel 4 began its series, The Alternative Christmas Message, in 1993. Previous speakers have included actors, teachers, a war veteran and, in 2008, the then President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Queen's message focused on family and spirituality. But, like Snowden, she also spoke of the need for a private space for personal thoughts:

"We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions it is easy to forget to pause and take stock, be it through contemplation, prayer or even keeping a diary. Many have found the practise of quiet personal reflection surprisingly rewarding, even discovering greater spiritual depth to their lives," she said.

The Queen also reflected on the many changes that had taken place since her coronation in 1952, a theme that Snowden also dwelt on with an allusion to the growth in government surveillance and information gathering since the publication of George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949.

"The types of collection in the book -- microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us -- are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go," he said.

Snowden's leaks led to revelations about data gathering by the NSA and other nations' spy agencies, including the broad and untargeted collection of data about U.S. mobile phone calls, and about the activities of users of websites including Facebook and Google.

As a result of those revelations, governments and citizens around the world have been prompted to reflect on whether such data gathering is appropriate or desirable.

The results of that reflection are mixed. In the U.S., some judicial authorities and government advisors are starting to lean towards dismantling or limiting the surveillance machine, while in other countries, such as France and the U.K., governments are legislating for even more surveillance and recording of citizens' communication preferences.

Here is a full transcript of Snowden's Alternative Christmas Message:

Hi, and merry Christmas.

I'm honored to have a chance to speak with you and your family this year.

Recently we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do. Great Britain's George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book -- microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us -- are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.

Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.

And that's a problem because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are, and who we want to be.

The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us, and the government that regulates it.

Together, we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance, and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

For everyone out there listening, thank you and merry Christmas.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Government use of ITNational Security AgencysecurityEdward Snowdenmobile securityencryptionLaura PoitrasgovernmentprivacyChannel 4BBC

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?