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Reading: Permanent Record from E. Snowden

I had to try to write something in english. Moreover about this book. I admit that I read it again in french after one month to understand it all.

Obviously I had to read this book. Permanent Record (or Mémoires Vives in french) is the Edward Snowden’s autobiography.
Briefly, E. Snowden is the whistleblower who brought NSA’s activities (mass surveillance of NSA mainly, GCHQ and other governments). And well, the book is surprinsingly well-written from an IT-guy ^_^

It is a mix between funny anecdotes and jokes; personal thoughts throughout his life; instructive parts with the description of the NSA’s internal structure, and how it works in the agency. The system of subcontracting and of access rights are cleverly detailed. Working of NSA’s programms are explained in addition, which is a great way to increase public awareness of the surveillance.

He recounts first his discovering of the IT and computers and how he became passionate about them. Every passionated programmer will recognize at least a bit oneself in these descriptions by the way. Then how it began to work for the NSA, and the thoughts that gradually came to his mind; finally, why he chose to reveal mass surveillance to the public.

Throughout the book, comparisons between real life and computing are made thanks to explanations for the general public. That’s why the book is accessible to everyone.

Some events are related such as the 9/11, which impacts changed deeply the NSA.

Security concepts are mentionned for the pleasure of everyone. He emphasizes for example the importance of the encryption, and how he used it.I loved the metaphores even if I found the RWX one inaccurate. The best would be about encryption and deletion. Especially deletion. A great pleasure to read !

I put here some quotes.

“Tech people rarely, if ever, have a sense of the broader applications and policy implications of the pojects to which they’re assigned. And the work that consumes them tend to require sucj specialized knowledge that bring it up at a barbecue would get them disinvited from the next one, because nobody cared.”

Most of my teammates does not care about privacy :/

“Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. Or that you don’t care about freedom of the press because you don’t like to read. Or that you don’t care about freedom of religion because you don’t believe in God. Or that you don’t care about the freedom to peaceably assemble because you’re a lazy, antisocial agoraphobe. Just because this or that freedom might not have meaning to you today doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or won’t have meaning tomorrow, to you, or to your neighbor […]”

A very good argument

“It took me nearly three decades to recognize that there was a distinction, and when I did, it got me into a bit of trouble at the office.”


”[…] A “whistleblower,” in my definition, is a person who through hard experience has concluded that their life inside an institution has become incompatible with the principles developed in—and the loyalty owed to—the greater society outside it, to which that institution should be accountable. […] Reforming the institution might be possible, however, so they blow the whistle and disclose the information to bring public pressure to bear.”

A good explanation of wistleblower

“The truth, though, is that deletion has never existed technologically in the way that we conceive of it. Deletion is just a ruse, a figment, a public fiction, a not-quite-noble lie that computing tells you to reassure you and give you comfort. Although the deleted file disappears from view, it is rarely gone. […]”

Ask yourself why deleting a file is always faster than saving file. Or why it is possible to recover “deleted” files on HDD. See data remanence for more informations.

“Altogether, the documents I selected fit on a single drive, which I left out in the open on my desk at home. I knew that the materials were just as secure now as they had ever been at the office. Actually, they were more secure, thanks to multiple levels and methods of encryption. That’s the incomparable beauty of the cryptological art. A little bit of math can accomplish what all the guns and barbed wire can’t: a little bit of math can keep a secret.”

I think it’s excellent, kind of like: hey guys, here is the most-kept secrets but you can’t read it. Even if it is just in front of you and you see it every day.