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Permanent Record summary

Edward Snowden

The long-awaited memoir of infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden

4.6 (145 ratings)
25 mins

What is Permanent Record about?

Permanent Record (2019) is the long-awaited memoir of infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, who in 2013 used his position as a tech specialist at the US National Security Agency to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance. In his autobiography, he tells the story of his life for the first time, from being a teenage computer whiz to his steep ascent in the intelligence community and his decision to risk it all for justice.

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    Permanent Record
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    Born into a family of government officials, Edward Snowden was raised on the internet of the 1990s.

    When we hear the word “internet” today, we think of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. These mega-companies have found a way to capitalize on our online time so efficiently that they have come to rule the world wide web. 

    But in the 90s, the internet was still in its infancy. Used almost exclusively by specialists and tech nerds, it was a place devoid of rules and full of elaborate amateur websites and forums, where people from around the world gathered to share obscure knowledge and try on different online identities.

    That was the internet that made Edward Snowden.

    Snowden was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, into a family of public servants. His mom was a government clerk from a long line of military officials, and his dad was a technical engineer for the Coast Guard. When Edward was nine, his mother started a new administrative job at the NSA and the Snowden family moved to Fort Meade, a famous US army installation in Maryland. Secretive government jobs like his mother's were typical for the inhabitants of Fort Meade.

    But even though he enjoyed spying on his big sister Jessica through his bedroom window, young Snowden initially had no interest in becoming a government spy. His first love was technology. From the early Commodore 64 computer system his dad brought home to his first Nintendo, Snowden loved spending time playing with — and taking apart — electronic devices of all kinds.

    When the family bought its first computer with an internet connection, Edward and the machine became inseparable. He spent almost every waking minute online, reading about technology and politics and playing adventure games.

    On the internet, Edward found a community of people who shared his interests and were eager to answer his questions. Soon he was chatting with tech nerds from across the globe, arguing about hardware problems, cheat codes, or the death penalty. These interactions didn’t just improve his computer skills; they also helped form his worldview. 

    His online peers didn’t mind that in real life he was just an awkward, introverted thirteen-year-old. In fact, they didn’t even know. In contrast to today, when our online profiles have become closely linked to our real identities, the internet of the 1990s was a playground of anonymity.

    Edward Snowden had only to change his username to become anyone he wanted, a useful ability for the pastime he soon picked up: hacking.

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    Best quote from Permanent Record

    [H]ackers arent breaking the rules as much as debunking them.

    —Edward Snowden
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    About the Author

    Edward Snowden is one of the most important whistleblowers in recent American history. Born into a family of government officials, he became a tech specialist for the CIA and a contractor for the NSA, where he learned about how the US was spying on its citizens and decided to make it public. For his service, he has received the Right Livelihood Award – the “alternative Nobel Prize” – and the German Whistleblower Prize, among other distinctions.

    Who should read Permanent Record?

    • Tech nerds with righteous hearts
    • Citizens and government officials concerned with privacy issues
    • People who have wondered whether their phones are spying on them

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