Originally published 11/12/2013 in Foreign Policy
It’s an honor to address you tonight. I apologize for being unable to attend in person, but I’ve been having a bit of passport trouble. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras also regrettably could not accept their invitations. As it turns out, revealing matters of “legitimate concern” nowadays puts you on the list for more than “Global Thinker” awards.
2013 has been an important year for civil society. As we look back on the events of the past year and their implications for the state of surveillance within the United States and around the world, I suspect we will remember this year less for the changes in policies that are sure to come, than for changing our minds. In a single year, people from Indonesia to Indianapolis have come to realize that dragnet surveillance is not a mark of progress, but a problem to be solved.
We’ve learned that we’ve allowed technological capabilities to dictate policies and practices, rather than ensuring that our laws and values guide our technological capabilities. And take notice: this awareness, and these sentiments, are held most strongly among the young–those with lifetimes of votes ahead of them.
Even those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls should agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public. No official may decide the limit of our rights in secret.
Today we stand at the crossroads of policy, where parliaments and presidents on every continent are grappling with how to bring meaningful oversight to the darkest corners of our national security bureaucracies. The stakes are high. James Madison warned that our freedoms are most likely to be abridged by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power. I bet my life on the idea that together, in the light of day, we can find a better balance.
I’m grateful to Foreign Policy Magazine and the many others helping to expose those encroachments and to end that silence.