The day before millions of U.S. children rush to unwrap their Christmas gifts, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and a top NSA legal official separately revealed what they wish were under their trees this year.
Snowden, the former NSA contractor wanted on espionage charges for leaking thousands of classified documents about the secretive agency's vast foreign and domestic surveillance programs, released a Christmas message from Moscow pushing for a "better balance" between privacy and security.
"A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They will never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem," Snowden said in a preview of his message posted on Britain's Channel 4 website. "The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us, and the government that regulates it. Together we should find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying."
Snowden is living in Moscow under temporary asylum, despite repeated requests from high-level U.S. officials that he be turned over for prosecution. Glenn Greenwald, former columnist for The Guardian who has broken story after story based on Snowden's information, said only a small portion Snowden's documents have been made public so far.
Prior to Snowden's Christmas message, the chief compliance officer for the NSA, John DeLong, told ABC News today that if he could give the American people one gift from the NSA, it would be something Snowden would likely appreciate: clearance.
"Just bring them all in," DeLong said, to see the men and women behind the NSA's computers in an effort to reassure the public that the agency is not a lawless, faceless, monolithic villain.
DeLong, who is in charge of making sure the NSA follows the rules that have been set for it, is one of several high-level NSA officials who have stepped forward in something of a renewed public relations campaign by the agency to counter the growing anti-NSA sentiment that came with Snowden's disclosures.
In separate interviews with ABC News and the Lawfare Blog, DeLong emphasized how carefully the NSA tracks any issues of non-compliance with the surveillance rules as they are, but told ABC News he, like Snowden, believes there "needs to be a discussion about the rules themselves."
Earlier this month a panel selected by the White House gave President Barack Obama 46 recommendations to rein in the NSA's spying programs, including halting the collection of Americans' metadata, one of the NSA's most controversial programs. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama would be studying the recommendations before announcing which he'll enact in weeks to come.
Edward Snowden's Full Christmas Message, Per Channel 4:
Hi. And Merry Christmas. I am honored to have a chance to speak with you and your family this year. Recently we learned our governments, working in concert, have created system of worldwide mass surveillance watching everything we do.
Great Britain's George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information The types of collection in the book, microphones, video cameras, TVs that watch us are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all.
They will never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem. Privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.
The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us, and the government that regulates it. Together we should find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government if we really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying. For everyone out there listening, thank you and Merry Christmas.