The Guardian and the Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for public service thanks to the courage of their reporters and Edward Snowden
At this point, most of us have heard about Edward Snowden, and the news outlets who had the guts to publish the documents that Snowden felt was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Well, this past Monday, the jury of the Pulitzer Prize gave the public service award to The Guardian and the Washington Post for their groundbreaking articles on the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities.
The former NSA contractor appeared at SXSW via Google Hangout, routed through several proxies for security reasons. “The irony that we’re using Google Hangout to talk with Ed Snowden is not lost on me,” said co-panelist Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist. Google is regularly criticized by cryptographers for not taking the necessary steps to protect its users’ private information.
Snowden stated that he “reported these clearly problematic programs to more than 10 distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. The existing U.S. system of constitutional checks and balances could work if those tasked with oversight were doing their jobs properly, and took the opportunity to criticize Congress and the courts”, who he said had abandoned their roles. “The problem is when overseers aren’t interested in oversight,”
Among the now famous disclosures were:
• The program codenamed Prism used by the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ to gain back-door entry into the data of nine giant internet companies including Google and Facebook.
• The cracking of internet encryption by the NSA and GCHQ that undermined personal security for web users.
Teams of journalists and news outlets published the most substantial disclosures of US government secrets since the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war in 1971. The Pulitzer Prize committee praised the Guardian for its “revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy”.
Snowden, in a statement, said: “Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation. Including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognizes was work of vital public importance.” He said that his actions in leaking the documents that formed the basis of the reporting “would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers”.
At the Guardian, the NSA reporting was led by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and film-maker Laura Poitras. The Washington Post was led by Barton Gellman, who also co-operated with Poitras. All four journalists were honoured with a George Polk journalism award last week for their work on the NSA story.
A presidential policy directive issued by President Obama in 2012 to protect whistleblowers doesn’t cover government contractors, and therefore wouldn’t have protected Snowden. However, since the release of the Snowden leaks, President Obama ordered a White House review into data surveillance. A number of congressional reform bills have also been introduced. Protections have begun to be put in place to safeguard privacy for foreign leaders and to increase scrutiny over the NSA’s mass data collection.
Asked if his sacrifice was worth it and whether he’d make the same choices again, Snowden said that he would. “I took an oath to support and defend the constitution and what I saw was the constitution being violated on a massive scale.”