No Place to Hide

Glenn Greenwald warns librarians about unchecked surveillance

June 30, 2015

Glenn Greenwald speaks via Skype at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition.
Glenn Greenwald speaks via Skype at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald helped change the world. The constitutional lawyer, bestselling author, and journalist played an instrumental role in bringing into the public sphere National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the extent of US surveillance. The revelations led to legislative reforms, altered the global conversation about privacy, and drastically changed how governments interact with each other.

At “No Place to Hide: Whistleblowers Expose the Surveillance State,” a program held at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco, Greenwald discussed the reverberations of his work with Snowden, the importance of privacy, and the failure of the mainstream media to hold the US government accountable for its actions. Participating via Skype from his home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Greenwald opened the session with an anecdote: When he told friends that he was going to be addressing librarians, they commented how “cute” that was. Greenwald objected.

“Librarians, since the 9/11 attack, have been the most unyielding and vicious defenders of liberties. ‘Cute’ is not a word I’d use to describe you,” he said. “I’ve watched with admiration and gratitude how steadfast your group has been.”

Greenwald wishes that more Americans were as concerned about privacy issues as librarians. People are tolerant of mass surveillance because think they have nothing to hide. Greenwald thinks such complacency is dangerous, noting that we all use security measures everyday: passwords, locks, fences, etc.

“People have to think about why their privacy matters,” he said. “There’s a pervasive view that people who want privacy must be doing something bad. Encryption and other security measures are a sign of suspicion in the government’s eyes, but all of us have things we do in our lives that require privacy.”

Greenwald warned that unchecked surveillance is destructive.

“When someone is watching and judging what you’re doing, your range of behavior changes. It has a profound impact on the choices we make,” he said. “A world that is being watch is a world of subservience.”