Edward Snowden has received the Right Livelihood Award, a Swedish-based alternative to the Nobel Prize.
“The Right Livelihood Award jury honors Edward Snowden for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights,” said founder Jakob von Uexkull. “Your award is waiting for you, we trust that Sweden will make it possible for you to collect your award here in Stockholm in person in the very near future.”
Snowden gave his acceptance speech broadcast from Moscow, received by a standing ovation from the audience in the building of the Swedish parliament:
Thank you so much.
You know I’m far underqualified 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 costs, even when it was hard, even when no one was watching, when they weren’t seeking recognition and when they never received it. Awards are by their nature 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 rights 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 Harrison who I know is in the audience tonight, who are unable 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’re worth it. All the prices we paid, all the sacrifices we made, I believe we would do it again, I know I would do it again, because it was never about me, this was … this is 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 it’s not just the quality of the government, but the relationship that we have with it. Are we going to be the subject of government, or will we be partner to it. And even with all the brilliant minds in the room now, all of the subject matter experts, all of the elected officials, all of the representatives of people and industry around the world working on these issues, we cannot make proper decisions if we do not have full and meaningful information. When it comes to governments, when it comes to democracies, these institutions are founded on the principal on the consent of the governed, and the consent of the people is not meaningful if it’s 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 … to be attacked by drones 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 these would put blood on our hands, that newspapers had put lives at risk, that they would bring down airplanes traveling 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 in Latin America. 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. That means regardless of how rights are protected in China, if you use a rights preserving service, you will 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 then within the United States itself. The same government that denounced me, that brought three charges against me including espionage, saying that I had sold information to our enemies, had said that’s not … the Director of the NSA says that 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 the conclusion … they had never stopped a single imminent terrorist attack. And this is critical because we learned that mass surveillance, a 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 debate has made us stronger.
This was only the beginning. Since then we’ve seen federal courts rule against these programs in the United States. We’ve seen the European Court of Justice strike down the data retention directive (PDF) saying that it was an unnecessary violation of rights, and put individuals unnecessarily at risk. The United Nations released a report saying that mass surveillance fundamentally violated human rights.
These are things that will be with us, that will be with us in every country, that 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 communities, 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 kind. 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 that there is so much more 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.
Snowden was among five winners of the Swedish human rights award, including Alan Rusbridger (watch Rusbridger’s acceptance speech here) the editor of The Guardian, whose paper first began publishing stories based on the NSA documents leaked by Snowden courtesy of journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Snowden’s father Lon was in Sweden at the ceremony and accepted the award on behalf of his son.
Although Snowden will not receive the award’s customary 500,000 kronor ($70,000) prize money, the organization said it would “fund legal support for him.”
This year, Sweden’s Foreign Ministry banned the Right Livelihood Award Foundation from making its traditional announcement at the ministry’s Stockholm location – even though prestigious awards have been handed out there for the past 18 years. Because of this, the ceremony had to be held at the Swedish parliament.
Earlier, the Swedish Greens called on the Swedish government to grant Snowden political asylum and fly him to the country on an official government plane. However, authorities did not respond to the request.