Harvard professor Laurence Lessig told Bill Moyers on Friday that former defense contractor Edward Snowden’s concerns about popular apathy regarding his revelations of government data gathering are well-founded.
“I think the thing he most fears is the most likely outcome,” Lessig said on Moyers & Company, citing the relative lack of attention given to matters like the Wall Street bailout or Occupy Wall Street.
“I think ordinary people have lost the sense that there’s a reason to try to engage politically because in the end they know how the cards will be dealt,” Lessig continued. “And the cards will be dealt not according to what makes sense or what people actually believe, but where the power is. And here the power is both the literal power of the most powerful security state in the history of the world and also the power of enormous interests to support and continue that state.”
Snowden, who has been in hiding since detailing for the newspaper The Guardian how the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors private citizens’ phone and internet usage, told the newspaper that he was most worried that the stories would have no effect.
“People will see in the media all of these disclosures,” Snowden said to the Guardian. “They’ll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.”
Lessig — whose former student, Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, committed suicide on January 12, 2013, in the wake of being hounded by a lawsuit by the Justice Department — struck a similarly ominous tone while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998.
“Our credit card records become the source for direct marketers, and rather than object, we simply buy with more cash. We have responded to this increasing invasion as the Soviets responded to theirs,” Lessig testified. “Bovine, we have accepted the reduction in private space. Passive, we have adjusted our life to these new intrusions. Accepting, we have been told that this is the way we have to live in this newly digitized age.”
“What was it at that time 15 years ago that you saw seducing us toward this kind of torpor?” Moyers asked after playing footage from Lessig’s testimony.
Lessig, who was working on a book about technology and civil liberties at the time, said he saw how the two would collide in the future.
“As it changed it would surveil us more efficiently, it would control us more effectively, it would destroy lots of the fundamental values that we thought we would guarantee through this technology,” Lessig told Moyers. “And what I was frustrated with is people didn’t seem to see the way in which the technology invited us in.”
Watch Moyers’ interview with Lessig, aired Friday, below.