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The personal cost of whistle-blowing

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Kathy Gibson reports from CeBit in Hannover – Democracy cannot be passive; it has to be participative.

This is the message from whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who says he has no regrets about his life choices. “Even if I had to a light match, I’m glad I did it,” he says.

Snowden was responding to a question about whether he still felt the same about a comment two years ago when he said: “I know I have burnt my life to the ground”.

“Yes I do,” he told CeBit delegates. “But there is a lot of hope in that too.”

He points out that his own government is still chasing him for charges that are considered by most of the rest of the world to be absurd, although it has changed some of its laws in response to his actions.

“And we still have no evidence that these revelations caused harm. In fact, there is increasing evidence that they did not cause harm,” Snowden adds.

“I paid real costs for my actions. Was I satisfied? Yes, I was. When you burn something down you create room for new growth.

“I believe that the reach of technology, that has been repressive in many lives, can be remastered and recovered by society in order to empower us.”

Snowden adds that it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the legacy of people who fought revolutions and died to secure our rights will pass not only to us but to our children as well.

His actions have borne results, he says. “We have had the most progressive legal reforms in the US since 2013 than we’ve had in the last 30 years. But it’s not over.”

Other countries haven’t done the same: Snowden points out that new legislation in Germany meant to reform bad practices has actually institutionalised it, while other countries still have a long way to go.

“This was never about me,” Snowden says. “I’m not the leader or the guy in charge. The only motivation I had was to put information into public hands.”

Speaking about the movie around his disclosures, Snowden says his main concern was about how it would present the issues.

“I think it explained mass surveillance in a way I couldn’t do,” he says. “When you’ve got a technical background it’s difficult to explain to non-technical people.

“I feel good that with the movie we have this resource for people who don’t think about it very deeply – but they may now understand the broad outlines of why it matters.”