Sequestered away in Russia, government whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden sometimes seems like he's light-years away from American society. But every so often, he drops a nugget of wisdom into the mix that reminds us why he's one of the most important voices of our generation — and why our online privacy still matters.
His visit to Reddit on May 21 was one such example. Snowden and the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer participated in an "Ask Me Anything" session in which they answered questions from users about Rand Paul, John Oliver and the NSA's continued surveillance efforts, among other things.
At one point, Snowden brought up a common defense from people who come down on the side of the government: "I don't care if they violate my privacy; I've got nothing to hide."
He then proceeded to obliterate that argument.
"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say," he said.
In other words, the right to privacy, just like the right to free speech, is fundamental for all Americans.
Snowden added that people who use the "I have nothing to hide" line don't understand the basic foundation of human rights. "Nobody needs to justify why they 'need' a right," he said. "The burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right."
If one person chooses to disregard his right to privacy, that doesn't automatically mean everyone should follow suit, either. "You can't give away the rights of others because they're not useful to you," Snowden said. "More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority."
Snowden also touched on Rand Paul's filibustering of the renewal of the Patriot Act, whose key provisions are set to expire Monday. Paul, he said, "is speaking for the majority of Americans — more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended."
He also talked about the general disinterest from the public on privacy issues ("The more central question, from my perspective, is 'why don't lawmakers seem to care?'") and coming back to the United States in the future. ("Maybe they'll surprise us.")
"Nice try, FBI profiler."