18. Who is Edward Snowden?

In June 2013, 29-year-old Edward Snowden bravely told the whole country that their government had been spying on them. And not only them, on the entire world. As a result, he’s no longer allowed back in the U.S without facing treason charges and life in prison, or worse. But he risked all that because sometimes the truth is more important than the consequences. He also proved that sometimes, one person can change the entire world.


  • Metadata: a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.
  • Whistleblower: a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an inappropriate or illegal activity.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis- A cost-benefit analysis is a process businesses use to analyze decisions.




Here is the transcript of our conversation:


Connor: Hey Brittany.

Brittany: Hey Connor.

Connor: Hey, I got a question for you. Imagine you’re driving on the side of the road and you’re looking out the window and suddenly you see something doing something wrong. Let’s say it’s a bully. Who’s kind of beating someone up or someone who’s stealing money from someone, you know, they’re hurting this person or they’re, violating their freedoms. What do you imagine you would do in that situation?

Brittany: Oh man. I mean, I’d like to think that I’d probably do something I’d speak up or I’d say something to make sure that it doesn’t keep happening, especially if somebody was getting hurt.

Connor: Yeah. You know, I think we’d all like to think that, right? We’d like to think that we’d kind of put on our Superman Cape And go to their rescue and, help someone. But here’s the, here’s kind of a similar question, but with a twist, what would you do if the person or people doing the bad thing was your own government?

Brittany: Whew. That’s kind of a tough one. I mean, who do you call when the people in charge are the ones breaking the rules also, I mean, wouldn’t, you get in trouble for telling on them again, they make the rules.

Connor: I know that’s kind of an interesting predicament, right? A lot of our listeners will remember in The Tuttle Twins learn about the law. We talk about how there are even bad people in government and there are bad laws. And so the government isn’t always good laws. Aren’t always good because we’re imperfect people. Right. And there are some actually like bad people who are trying to abuse other people and take their, money and stuff. So today I wanted to talk with you about one of the most important whistle-blowers of our time. And we’re gonna talk about what that weird word is. A whistleblower and his name are Edward Snowden. So let me first Brittany, have you maybe explained what is a whistleblower?

Brittany: Yeah. Okay. So a whistleblower is someone who kind of like you explained in the beginning, somebody who sees something going on, maybe they’re in government. Maybe they’re not, maybe they’re in a school and they see a teacher behaving badly, whatever it is, they see something, somebody doing something bad and they blow the whistle. It’s not a real whistle. They’re not actually going around blowing a whistle, but they sound the alarm so to speak, right? They, tell somebody else that there is a problem going on and that it needs to be addressed. So it’s somebody who does something very hard, standing up to somebody who might be in power, but saying, Hey, this is wrong. We need to do something about it. So they’re shedding light on bad behavior.

Connor: And, you know, as, kids, our parents always talk to us about the importance of doing what’s right. Making good decisions. And if someone is doing something wrong that we should, you know, tell someone in charge, or call that to someone’s attention so that, you know, if someone’s trying to hurt someone else that can stop, right? We don’t want to have people, you know, going through that. And so yeah, if you’re in the government, it’s really important that if you see, especially cuz we all pay for it, right? We’ve talked about taxes before and so if someone in the government is doing something wrong, it’d be very important for someone else who knows that to try and point that out. So you’re right. That’s whistle-blowing. So Edward Snowden is who we’re gonna talk about. Why, is his name so widely known? Maybe let’s just start with this, the basic story Brittany. So what did Edward Snowden do? Or why, did he become a whistleblower?

Brittany: Yeah. Well, I think it was June. I, think the exact date was actually June 13th, 2013, somewhere around there. Actually, it was a few days before we found out that I believe it was Verizon Verizon wireless had been giving a lot of documents of its customers, and cell phones to the government to track what they were doing, which is pretty terrible. I mean, this is something we think we have privacy to imagine all your phone records, every text message or, well, we’ll get into metadata in a minute, but, every a record of who you called and what time you called them, what if the government had that? You don’t want them to have that? Well, it turned out the government did have that. And Verizon wasn’t telling its customers and neither was the government. So Edward Snowden was an NSA contractor. That’s an at national security administration and they were doing some unruly things, some inappropriate things. They were spying on the American people. The Verizon leak was just the first thing that we found out about. But then we found out about more things. But so what Edward Snowden did is he took information that he had and he risked his job. He risked his life and he risked possibly never seeing his family again to tell the American people, Hey, your government is spying on you.

Connor: Now let me ask you some questions, Brittany, cuz there are a lot of people who don’t like Edward Snowden. They think that he did something wrong, right? They feel like he should not have publicly, you know, shared the information that he did. And so let me give you like alike an explanation or a question or two that a lot of these people would do. So Edward Snowden, you know, Hey, he should not have shared these things publicly. Even though the government was doing it wrong, he should have gone through the proper channels. He should have, you know, just told his boss. He shouldn’t have given this information to the media, to newspapers, and, to journalists. He should have given it to his, boss. He should have kind of gone through the process. How, would you respond to that? You know, and kind of provide a rebuttal to what they’re saying.

Brittany: Yeah. I’m gonna go back to your bully analogy from the beginning. So let’s say you see bullies beating someone up, maybe trying to steal their money and you go to them and you say, Hey guys, this is wrong. And they tell you, hold on. We don’t know that this is wrong, but we’re gonna investigate all the bullies are gonna investigate each other. And then we’re gonna come back and tell you if we think what we did was wrong, would you trust that very much?

Connor: Yeah, not very much. Right?

Brittany: Not very much.

Connor: A lot of sense.

Brittany: That’s Exactly what happened in this situation, right? They were saying, why didn’t you go through the proper channels is what they call it. And you can’t see I’m using the scare quotes right now, but the proper channels would’ve been asking the people, doing the bad things to investigate them doing the bad things. And more often than not, when that happens, they come back and say, no, we weren’t doing anything wrong.

Connor: Well, so another criticism is that Edward Snowden released some things that, you know, put people in harm’s way, like lists of spies and things like that. And so he’s not qualified to share that information. He’s not able to tell, you know, what is secret and what should remain secret and what information if it were shared publicly could, you know, cause someone harm or put someone in, jeopardy. And so how do you respond to this idea that Edward Snowden should not have publicly revealed this information because he’s not really qualified or didn’t really know what he had?

Brittany: This is a tricky one. And I think there are two important things that we need to address here. One is that to my knowledge and I believe this is in the book that he recently released, they cannot prove anybody was hurt and any spies were, you know, outed. So, you cannot trace, any unsafe or harm to anyone else from the leaks. Secondly, you also have to look at, and I hate using cost benefit. Cause again, human lives are every single human life is important. That being said, do we want this to keep happening and have the American people’s rights continue to be violated because that’s what was happening? And every time we dismiss it on, oh no, you might be hurting someone. You might be risking someone. These are hypotheticals. We don’t have answers to this, but you’re asking us to definitely give up our rights. So I think we have to weigh the cost-benefit there.

Connor: So, let’s unpack a little bit, of what that means. A hypothetical is basically an example, like a theory or an example. So the critics of Edward Snowden were making these claims and, they were saying, oh, people are gonna get hurt, but, that’s just a claim. Right? They, couldn’t prove it. They didn’t know it for sure. So it’s hypothetical yeah. In the sense that they’re just like, you know, suggesting that, that, probably happens, but they didn’t have evidence for it. And then you also point out a really important term that our listeners should learn, and that is like a cost-benefit analysis. And so in this case you know, sure. There might be a cost of revealing the information perhaps as you, I think conceded Britneymaybe a spy would get outed, or maybe a foreign government leader would get upset if they see how American, you know, government officials were talking about them, or perhaps there would be a risk to some people’s safety as a result so that there would be a cost to revealing that information publicly. We’re not just talking about like a financial cost, right? Yeah. That basically, like something could happen that people don’t like that’s, like the cost. And then the benefit on the other side is how will the American public benefit from having access to this information. How will they change their behavior? What will they know about their government? What will they do, will they elect different people, will they support different laws? And so I think a lot of people like you and me, Brittany, look at what Edward Snowden did. And we say in the cost-benefit analysis, in other words, it’s only a little bit of cost, but there’s a huge benefit versus if he had released something and it, and it didn’t really have any good information on it, except it had this one name on it that would cause that person to get killed.

Well, then there would be a very high cost with a very low benefit. And so maybe that doesn’t make as much sense if your parents are saying, Hey, if you go pull five weeds, I’ll give you $50. Wow. Right. The cost-benefit is, really interesting. It doesn’t cost you very much to go spend time out in the, you know, yard for a few minutes. But the benefit is huge. But if your parents are like, Hey, you know, we’ll, we’ll let you sprinkle some sugar on your oatmeal in the morning. If you go, you know, pull weeds for four hours, then you’re like, that the benefit isn’t that much for the cost.

Brittany: Yeah. Not worth your time. Right.

Connor: And so Edward felt like the benefit was worth it, even though he was the one you just pointed out, he was the one that would experience, a lot of the cost. Right. He would be considered a traitor by his country. He lives right now in Russia. Right. He had to flee and he bounced around to a few different countries.

Brittany: I think he kind of had to let, I mean, Russia was for a while, the only place where he could go.

Connor: Right. And so the cost to him was, was significant. F, imagine Brittany, if Edward Snowden returned to America right now, which he wants to, right? His family was here, his, life was here. What do you imagine the government would do to him?

Brittany: That’s the scary thing we don’t really know. And I’ll be honest. I don’t really know what to pass the government. We know that we have secret courts, right? We know that we have, we have I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna scare the audience, but things like president Obama had a secret kill list where he could kill people. Wow. So there are scary things that happen that our government can do. And it’s scary when it happens to somebody who’s so brave and who is on the side of the American people. So if Edward Snowden comes back, a lot of people like to say, well, he should come back and get a fair trial. There is no guarantee that he’s going to get a fair trial because we’ve already seen throughout our history that doesn’t always happen.

Connor: It’s interesting, Brittany, you know, this live in Utah and live just a few miles away from a series of buildings. These are graynon-descript buildings. In other words, they’re kind of boring and you can’t really tell that they’re anything special and they’re not very tall. They’re only like one, maybe two stories tall. But what you don’t know about these buildings when you’re just driving by is that it’s like the tip of the iceberg. Right. You’re familiar. And I’m sure most of our listeners are familiar with, you know, the, when you use the term, the tip of the iceberg, like most of the iceberg is underneath the water. And if all, if you’re sailing in a boat and you just see this little bit of ice, you know, above the water, you’re like, oh, I can navigate around it. But then you, if you’re the Titanic, right, you might crash into that iceberg and then fall apart because it’s much bigger underwater. That’s how these buildings are. You see the tiny little part on the top, but they go way underground. And what are these buildings? These buildings, according to the information that Edward Snowden was able to release. And he released a lot of information. These buildings are where the NSA stores all of our information. So Brittany, if I text you or if I call you, or if I email you, right? The NSA is basically capturing all that information. They’re storing it. They’re hanging onto it. So 10 years from now, they could probably look back. If I, you know, become a lawbreaker of some sort, they could look back through my history and be like, oh, he talked to that Britney person 10 years ago. We better go talk to her. Right. That’s well,

Brittany: Wait, Connor, I’ve got a question about this though.

Connor: Alright. Let’s talk about that.

Brittany: If you’re not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?

Connor: Okay. That this is a good one to bring up because a lot of people will feel like, Hey, no, that’s totally fine. Cause if this, if this helps the government go after bad people, then maybe that’s the price we pay to live, you know, in a safe society. Yeah. No, it’s a very common argument. And so for the kids listening, especially if we hear that argument, there are a couple of ways that I typically think about it. When someone says, Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide. I think, well, you know, you probably do because if I said to you right now, give me your cell phone or give me your diary or your journal. Chances are you wouldn’t like that very much. You don’t want other people to know the things that you keep secret doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, but if you give other people access to your entire lives, whether you’re doing something illegal or not, they have access to all the secrets, then all the information. And so that leads to the second thing that I say, and that is, you don’t know what type of people are going to have access to this information. And the sad thing about our government, Brittany, and I know you understand this is that everyone is a lawbreaker. There are so many laws on the books,

Brittany: Too many Laws.

Connor: That if a prosecutor, someone who’s in charge of like you know, charging you in court and, and convicting you of a crime, if a prosecutor wants to come after you or me, chances are, they could find a way find a law that you or I have broken and be able to prosecute us. And if that prosecutor had access to all of our information, our pictures, our calendar events, Our emails are texts, right? They could find things that they could use that maybe weren’t problems in and of themselves. But when someone in the government is like, Hey, I now want to go after you. They can come up with a story and come up with a crime. And so I think that’s why Edward Snowden was so concerned is that you know, he’s calling it like permanent surveillance, right? A permanent record. The government is just gonna have all kinds of information about everyone. So Brittany, do you have any other arguments about that? When someone says I got nothing else to hide, how do you respond to that?

Brittany: So There’s something, and we’re gonna talk about this in a later episode. So the bill of rights is in our constitution and there are 10 things that the government protects the individual from the government. And those 10 things are some of the most sacred things that we can do to keep ourselves safe. The fourth amendment talks about our right to privacy. It doesn’t matter if you have anything to hide, the government doesn’t have the right to your stuff. The founding fathers, when the British colonists, when the British army was stationed in the American colonies, they used to stop people regularly and just search them. And, and, you know, like, let kind of like, let me see your papers. You hear that you hear that term but it was this searching of, are you doing anything wrong? And it was like an assumed guilt. Like they assumed that you were guilty of something, but we don’t believe that in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. So the fact that they’re letting the government just get into your stuff without any warrant. And we’ll talk about that in a later episode two, but that’s essentially a piece of paper that lets the government, if there’s probable, cause if there’s a reason to search you if let’s say somebody says, this person is doing something bad, that is against the law, a judge can write a warrant and say, okay, go search this house, looking for this specific thing. But they have to be very specific. Now, when they’re going through our phone records like this, they don’t have a warrant and they don’t have specifics. They’re just looking for anything. Yeah. And that is a direct violation of our fourth amendment, right? So this is something, I mean the founding fathers are rolling in their graves. I’m sure. Because this is something that goes against the whole foundation of our country.

Connor: We’ve also seen Britney stories that have come out of people who have access to all this information about people. You’ve seen people look up like their girlfriends or you know, their neighbors. And imagine if you had access to a computer that would tell you the innermost thoughts of your enemies, your friends, and your parents you might find that really interesting, but how would other people feel right for you to have access to that? And that’s the problem. That’s why Edward Stone was so concerned. One additional thing I wanna say before we wrap this episode up, Brittany is when we go back to the question of why did Edward do this. Why did he take all of this information? He, basically, I mean, broke laws in order to make this public. And he was, you know, sworn to secrecy. He was given access to this information and told you to know, you gotta keep this secret. And he decided to, you know, break the terms of those agreements and be willing to suffer the consequences. Again, that cost benefit. He felt like even if I’m punished for doing this, the benefit to the public is so significant that it was worth doing. And you’ll remember this Brittany, but there were some people in Congress who were pretty concerned about privacy and they were concerned about what the government was collecting, what type of information it was collecting. And the department of a national intelligence director, basically one of the guys in charge and the American government for you know, how government accesses information about people. He sat on a committee in Congress where he was being asked some questions. And one of the questions specifically was, Hey, we’re hearing about, you know, these cell phone records and capturing this information is this happening? And he lied straight to their faces, right? He looked them in the eye in Congress and said, oh no, we’re not doing that. We’re not doing that.

Brittany: He looks nervous. It’s funny when he does it, you can tell, he looks like he is telling a lie.

Connor: Yeah. So imagine if you’re Edward Snowden, right? And, and you’re watching that interview and you see basically your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, lying to the public, the American people, the media Congress. And, so I, can totally sympathize with why Edward did what he did. He felt like, look, it’s clear that they’re trying to cover this up. It’s clear that they’re trying to be secretive about it. And so if I don’t do something, then who will, and, and that I think is maybe a good question to end on Brittney, cuz it takes us back to the beginning. If you’re driving along the side of the road and you see a bully and no one else is around, there’s a victim there who’s suffering. If you don’t go to help them, who else will? And, so we talked in a previous episode about civil disobedience, right? And when it’s appropriate, perhaps to break a law or to do the right thing, even though someone says it’s wrong and here we see, I think in the example of Edward Snowden, how important that is, Brittany, I’ll give you the last word to share a final thought.

Brittany: Yeah. I would really just encourage all our listeners to, Google Edward Snowden, to learn more about him. Because in my opinion, I think he is one of the most important people of our generation. And he may very well go down in history as being one of the most important people in our, country’s history. So definitely look into him. I think he’s an amazing person. And we’ll talk to you guys next time.

Connor: Make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast. Tuttletwins.Com/Podcast. Share it with all your friends and family. And we’ll see you on the next episode, see you later, Brittany.

Brittany: See Ya.

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