|Edward Snowden, Queen
London, Dec. 25: From Moscow where he has been given temporary asylum, US whistleblower Edward Snowden today offered the world an “alternative Christmas broadcast” on Channel 4 television, warning mankind of the increasing lack of privacy in people’s lives and how Big Brother was watching them.
His broadcast at 4.15pm on Channel 4, a network whose main purpose is to annoy the establishment as much as possible — its Christmas offering last year was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the eccentric President of Iran — was preceded at 3pm by the rather more conventional offering from the Queen from Buckingham Palace.
Hero to some and a traitor to others for leaking a cache of top secret documents about US and UK spying to the Guardian, the Washington Post and other papers, the ex-National Security Agency operative warned of the dangers of growing surveillance by the state.
“Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information,” he began.
“The types of collection in the book — microphones and 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.”
He added: “A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”
The Queen also spoke of a child — in her case, her grand grandson, Prince George, who will one day become king after her son, Prince Charles, and grandson, Prince William, have had their turn.
She, too, was concerned about the kind of world in which the newest member of family, the first born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, will grow up. He was born on July 22 at the private Lindo Wing of St Mary’s hospital in central London.
The Queen said: “Here at home my own family is a little larger this Christmas. As so many of you will know, the arrival of a baby gives everyone the chance to contemplate the future with renewed happiness and hope. For the new parents, life will never be quite the same again.” Her words were accompanied by footage of William bouncing George up and down in his arms, with Kate by his side, as they chatted to other family members outside the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, ahead of their son’s christening.
The 87-year-old great grandmother said in her broadcast: “As with all who are christened, George was baptised into a joyful faith of Christian duty and service. After the christening, we gathered for the traditional photograph. It was a happy occasion, bringing together four generations.”
The main theme of the Queen’s seasonal message to the nation was reflection as she looked back over the past 12 months to the 60th anniversary of her coronation, celebrated with a national service in June.
She also looked forward to the Commonwealth Games being staged in Glasgow next year in succession to the one Suresh Kalmadi masterminded in Delhi in 2010.
Her broadcast began with the Queen telling her audience how a man she once knew gained a clearer insight into the world after spending a year in a plaster cast recovering from a back operation.
She said: “He read a lot, and thought a lot, and felt miserable. Later, he realised this time of forced retreat from the world had helped him to understand the world more clearly. We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock.”
Meanwhile, in Russia, where 30-year-old Snowden had has plenty of time of reflection, the American argued his decision to leak state secrets was for the larger good. He highlighted a review of the NSA’s power that recommended it be no longer permitted to collect phone records in bulk or undermine Internet security, findings endorsed in part by Barack Obama, and a federal judge’s ruling that bulk phone record collection was likely to violate the US constitution.
“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,” he said. “Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.”
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Snowden expressed personal satisfaction: “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished. I already won. ... Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself. All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.”
Channels 4’s head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne explained the choice of speaker this year: “Edward Snowden’s decision to reveal the extent of surveillance programmes was one of the most significant news events of the year. The information which he has placed in the public domain raises serious questions for democratic society.
“This is an opportunity for our viewers to hear from him directly and judge for themselves what he has to say.”
There are, of course, two sides to his arguments. Others have said that Snowden has endangered the lives of intelligence agents who were working to keep their countries safe from terrorists.
This other point of view was reflected by the Queen against the backdrop of British troops in Afghanistan: “We are forever grateful to all those who put themselves at risk to keep us safe.”
She also allowed herself a little introspection: “I myself had cause to reflect this year, at Westminster Abbey, on my own pledge of service made in that great church on Coronation Day 60 years earlier.
“The anniversary reminded me of the remarkable changes that have occurred since the coronation, many of them for the better; and of the things that have remained constant, such as the importance of family, friendship and good neighbourliness.”
“But reflection is not just about looking back,” she pointed out. “I and many others are looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year.”
The baton relay left London in October and is now the other side of the world.”
, on its way across seventy nations and territories before arriving in Scotland next summer. Its journey is a reminder that the Commonwealth can offer us a fresh view of life.”
“My son Charles summed this up at the recent meeting in Sri Lanka,” she recalled. “He spoke of the Commonwealth’s ‘family ties’ that are a source of encouragement to many. Like any family there can be differences of opinion. But however strongly they’re expressed they are held within the common bond of friendship and shared experiences.”
She concluded: “For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God's love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.
“On the first Christmas, in the fields above Bethlehem, as they sat in the cold of night watching their resting sheep, the local shepherds must have had no shortage of time for reflection. Suddenly all this was to change. These humble shepherds were the first to hear and ponder the wondrous news of the birth of Christ — the first noel — the joy of which we celebrate today.”