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Edward Snowden wrote and shelved an anti-surveillance manifesto

Edward Snowden wrote and shelved an anti-surveillance manifesto

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In the weeks and months prior to his public outing of the NSA's spying programs, Edward Snowden wrote an anti-surveillance manifesto designed to galvanize supporters into signing a petition, to be published should he be arrested for his whistle-blowing. Privacy activist Micah Lee, who was contacted by Snowden before the ex-NSA contractor leaked thousands of documents to the press, says that although the manifesto was written and the site carrying it was built, it was shelved "when it became clear that Snowden wasn't immediately getting arrested or prevented from communicating, and that the US government wasn't forcibly denying the public an accurate understanding of what he did and what his motivations were."

Snowden contacted Micah Lee before the NSA leaks were public

Writing on The Intercept, the journalistic enterprise edited by lawyer and writer Glenn Greenwald and the director of Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, Lee says that he was asked by Snowden in May 2013 to create "a website that would launch a global petition against surveillance." Lee says he didn't know what Snowden would be leaking, but that the manifesto, which talked about "ubiquitous surveillance" by the NSA and other intelligence agencies from Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand "chilled his spine." Snowden wrote about the lack of privacy and accountability from intelligence agencies, and "what that meant to democracy around the world," offering a call to action that he hoped would kickstart a mass anti-surveillance movement even if he was arrested. It was a contingency plan similar to the "dead man's switch" he set up for the documents he was planning to release — the files were to be released by third parties, even if he were caught or silenced.

The soon-to-be whistle-blower decided on for the site's name, and the two worked out how best to put the site together. Lee, who worked as a technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and as chief technology officer for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, had experience building what he calls "privacy-respecting" websites, and helped guide Snowden's efforts, introducing an auto-tweet option for signers of the petition that he thought would boost its visibility.


The Intercept

Snowden spoke to Lee using encrypted emails and a pseudonym — "Verax," Latin for "truth-teller." Having built the site in May after first being contacted by Snowden through encrypted channels, it wasn't until June that Glenn Greenwald first lifted the lid on the NSA's spying programs, and the EFF technologist finally knew what his previously anonymous friend was leaking. Snowden continued working on his manifesto into June, telling Lee via secure email that he had a new draft for the site "but kept revising it." In site mockups, shown on The Intercept, Lee instead used the text from the US Declaration of Independence to fill space.

Snowden decided it was no longer necessary once he was able to escape the US

The site, its creator says, would have been ready to go, but Snowden decided it was no longer necessary after his leaks became worldwide news, and he was able to make his escape from the United States. Lee says Snowden made the decision to keep offline because he "never wanted the story to be about himself," and preferred that the public debate stay focused on NSA spying — an aim the enigmatic character has only been partially successful in achieving.