The US has filed a civil lawsuit against former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden for allegedly violating non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by publishing his book, Permanent Record.
Permanent Record was released today worldwide and covers Snowden’s work for both the CIA and NSA. It also details what motivated Snowden to become a whistleblower and leak classified documents in 2013 which showed how US spy agencies were using the internet to conduct mass surveillance.
The lawsuit alleges that Snowden violated “his express obligations under the agreements he signed” by failing to submit the book to the CIA and NSA for “pre-publication review.” The lawsuit isn’t seeking to stifle the publication or distribution of Permanent Record but instead aims to “recover all proceeds earned by Snowden.”
In addition to suing Snowden, the US government’s lawsuit is also naming the publisher as a nominal defendant to “ensure that no funds are transferred to Snowden, or at his direction, while the court resolves the United States’ claims.”
Today’s civil lawsuit is separate to the criminal charges Snowden is currently facing in the US for alleged violations of the 1917 Espionage Act and theft of government property.
In a statement on the lawsuit, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger said:
“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit. This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”
The Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Civil Division added that “The United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees’ and contractors’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreements, including their pre-publication review obligations.”
Snowden has responded to the lawsuit by describing his book as “the book the government does not want you to read.”
The government of the United States has just announced a lawsuit over my memoir, which was just released today worldwide. This is the book the government does not want you to read: (link corrected) https://t.co/JS1AJ6QlXg
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 17, 2019
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also released a statement on this Snowden lawsuit and described the CIA and NSA’s pre-publication review process as “a process that prohibits millions of former intelligence-agency employees and military personnel from writing or speaking about topics related to their government service without first obtaining government approval.”
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and attorney for Snowden added:
“This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations. Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review. But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified.
Mr. Snowden wrote this book to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire. He hopes that today’s lawsuit by the United States government will bring the book to the attention of more readers throughout the world.”
The ACLU and Knight First Amendment Institute are currently challenging the constitutionality of the pre-publication review system that’s at the center of this lawsuit and describe it as a “broken,” “unconstitutional,” “far-reaching censorship system” which “gives the government far too much power to suppress speech that the public has a right to hear.”