Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras will be jointly awarded the 2014 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling for exposing the US government's vast warrantless surveillance operation. The revelations sparked a debate on the constitutionality of mass surveillance, and how technology has transformed the parameters of individual privacy.
In reflecting upon its decision, the awards committee said, “We have selected Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras for their work in exposing the NSA's illegal and unconstitutional bulk collection of the communications of millions of people living in the United States. Their act of courage was undertaken at great personal risk and has sparked a critical and transformative debate about mass surveillance in a country where privacy is considered a constitutional right. We particularly wanted to salute the role that Poitras has played in this story, as we feel that her contribution has not been adequately recognized by the American media.
“We want to take this opportunity to also salute Glenn Greenwald, Barton Gellman, Ewen MacAskill, and the other journalists involved with this incredibly complex story on both sides of the Atlantic, who under tremendous governmental pressure have worked tirelessly to make the world aware of the true scope of the surveillance state.”
Snowden, who had worked first as a computer specialist for the CIA and then as a contractor for the NSA, had grown increasingly disillusioned by his first-hand experience of the government’s abuse of privacy. And he had watched as the traditional oversight bodies — the courts and the Congress — had abdicated their constitutional responsibility to rein in unlawful executive-branch conduct.
“Authority cannot be legitimate if it is not accountable,” said Snowden upon hearing that he had been awarded The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling. “Public awareness of the NSA's unconstitutional activities is leading to the first significant intelligence reforms in nearly four decades. These revelations remind us that there are moments in history when a free press is our last line of defense against unlawful government activities carried out in secret and in our name.
“It is a privilege to be welcomed into the ranks of the Ridenhour awardees, people who have inspired us through their fearless commitment to truth-telling. I'm especially grateful to be honored alongside Laura Poitras, whose brilliant work over the last year has changed what the public thinks about living under surveillance.”
Once he had made his decision to release documents exposing illegal NSA activity to specific journalists, Snowden chose his contacts with great care. He turned to Poitras for her fearless reporting in the post-9/11 era. Poitras, said Snowden, “demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.” Poitras was the first to establish encrypted contact with Snowden and helped to initiate safe lines of communications with other journalists.
In addition to providing journalists with evidence documenting NSA abuses, Snowden made the unprecedented decision to not hide his identity, but rather to reveal himself as the source of the disclosures. In early June 2013, Poitras and the Guardian’s Greenwald and MacAskill traveled to Hong Kong to meet Snowden.
"Being entrusted by Edward Snowden with disclosures he risked his life to reveal to the public has been the most profound and humbling experience of my life,” Poitras said, on hearing that she and Snowden had been awarded the prize. “Reporting on this story alongside Glenn Greenwald has been the most rewarding and mind-blowing. I share this award with Glenn. People are defined by their actions. Ron Ridenhour learned of the massacre in My Lai and revealed it. Edward Snowden saw a system of mass suspicion-less surveillance and exposed it. Without their courage we would know of neither."
The first story, written by Greenwald and published by the Guardian on June 6, 2013 revealed that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top-secret court order. Subsequent reporting in the Guardian and the Washington Post exposed previously unknown programs such as PRISM, which allows the government warrantless access to the servers of such internet giants as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and XKeyscore, which supports the wide-reaching collection of online data, from search histories to emails and online chats.
With The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling we are also recognizing the importance of Poitras’s work as a documentary filmmaker focusing on America post 9/11. Since 2006 she has been subjected to repeated interrogations and detentions at the US border. Poitras currently lives in Berlin where she is editing the final film in a trilogy on post 9/11, a documentary on surveillance. Along with Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, she is a co-founding editor of The Intercept.
Snowden left Hong Kong on June 23 en route to Latin America, accompanied by WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison. While transiting in Moscow, Snowden was denied onward travel because his passport had been revoked. He spent more than a month in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport and applied for asylum in more than 20 countries before being granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year. He currently lives in Moscow while he is unable to travel.
Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras will be awarded The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling on April 30th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The event is presented in partnership with the Fund for Constitutional Government, the Project On Government Oversight, and the Government Accountability Project. It is open to press. For more information visit www.ridenhour.org.