There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying...and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever...

Acceptance speech – Edward Snowden

Thank you so much.

You know I am far under-qualified for this kind of audience. It is an extraordinary privilege to be counted among so many, around the world, who have fought for human rights even at great personal cost, even when it was hard, even when no one was watching, when they were not seeking recognition and when they never received it. Awards are by their nature not individual, but I can only accept this collectively. This award recognizes the work of so many – not just over recent years, but over decades, who recognize that human right is a new name for an old concept, the concept of liberty, and the price of fighting for liberty in changing times, in times of fear, in times of novel dangers, new threats, is unpredictable and often quite high.

The journalists that I’ve been privileged to work with, publishers around the world, activists, whistleblowers, civil society broadly, have put so much on the line. There are many, including Sarah Harisson who I know is in the audience tonight, who are not able to go home. I myself have lived in exile for more than a year and a half now. And these are things that are unlikely to change soon – but they are worth it. All the prices we’ve paid; all the sacrifices we’ve made – I believe we would do again. I know I would do again, because it was never about me. This was never about, you know, he or she. This was about us, this is about our rights, this is about the kind of societies that we want to live in, the kind of government that we want to have, the kind of world that we want to make for the next generation. And when we talk about government, we need to think about not just the quality of government, but the relationship that we have with them. Are we going to be the subject of government, or will we be partner to it? And even with all the brilliant minds that rule now, all the subject matter experts, all the elected officials, all of the representatives of people in industries around the world working on these issue, we cannot make proper decisions if we do nor have all and meaningful information.

When it comes to governments, when it comes to democracies, these institutions are founded on the principle of the consent of the government, and the consent of the people is not meaningful if it is not informed. Now, it is this principle that brought me forward, and when we think about the challenges and the problems that we face, the new atmosphere of fear that all of the governments and institutions around the world are operating in, as a response to these new threats, and we evaluate how things are going, there is reason for hope. I am optimistic. Because when we take a look at what’s happened since last year, since I came forward, since I stood up, I was called a spy, I was called a traitor. Some of the most important and powerful officials in the United States debated – in public – placing me on a kill list…you know, to be had to be attacked by [inaudible] and so on and so forth.

Largely that controversy has ended. Governments that first said that people had no need to know this information, that this would put blood on our hands, that newspapers had put lives at risk, that they would bring down airplanes travelling over Europe – which happened; Europe brought down the plane of the president of Bolivia to search it for me, thinking that I might be seeking asylum, though I am not… This does not happen anymore. Instead, we see massive seat changes, we see incredible debates happening in parliaments around the world, happening in newspapers around the world, happening at academic institutions. We see the very fabric of the Internet being changed due to new technological implementations that protect people’s privacies, that protect our rights, in a new and meaningful way that crosses borders. It means regardless of how rights are protected in China, if you use a rights-preserving service, you’ll be protected no matter the laws of that particular jurisdiction.

This is an incredible gain for human rights around the world. When we talk about government itself, and the changes that have happened, these are nowhere more apparent than within the United States itself. The same government that denounced me, that brought three charges against me, including espionage, saying that, you know, I had sold information to our enemies, now said that’s not true, and there’s no evidence [inaudible] about me. The director of the NSA says, in fact, he doesn’t see the sky falling. The president of the United States of America said that he appointed independent review boards to take a look at these programs of mass surveillance and to see if they really are [inaudible], and the conclusion of these boards was they were not – that they had never stopped a single imminent terrorist attack. And this is critical, because we learned mass surveillance, the policy that was kept from us – from the public, from not just Americans, not just from Swedes, but from the world – that it had not helped us, despite costing us so much of our rights. He said the debate that has happened since has not weakened us as a nation. The president said this has made us stronger. This was only the beginning. Since then we’ve seen federal courts rule against these programmes in the United States. We’ve seen the European Court of Justice strike down the data retention directive, saying that it was an unnecessary violation of rights, it put individuals unnecessarily at risk. The United Nations released a report saying that mass surveillance fundamentally violates human rights.

These are things that will be with us. They will be with us in every country. They provide us a foundation upon which to build. We can move forward from here as we continue to discuss these policies, these programs that are instituted behind closed doors without our awareness and without our consent to say “are these reasonable? Are they necessary? And are they proportionate to the threat that we face? Do they use the least intrusive means necessary to provide for necessary government investigations?” Because this is not about turning off intelligence communications. This is not about stopping police investigations. This is not about reducing our security. This is about securing our society. This is about securing our rights. This is about securing the liberties that we inherited as a generation and that we want the generation behind us to inherit in time. And together, by using this open forum, by using this discussion, by taking advantage of the sacrifices that so many people around the world have made, we can have those liberties, we can have those freedoms, we can have those rights, we can have an open and liberal society, because we say, even in times of threat, we stand for liberal values, and I hope, despite all that we’ve accomplished in the last year, we all recognize that this is only the beginning and there is so much to be done and that together we will achieve it. And I hope I can count on you in the next year as we stand and propose that the United Nations create a new special rapporteur on privacy and digital rights to ensure that no matter where the agency operates, no matter where the technology is placed, no matter what country is deciding that they face new and novel threats that require new narrowments of our rights, we stand for liberty.

Thank you. Thank you very much.