I...found it uncharacteristically satisfying that Permanent Record included a chapter composed of extracts from [Snowden's girlfriend] Lindsay Mills’s diary. It was genuinely interesting to get an insight into how someone might cope with this very unusual situation being thrust upon them in a more candid tone than we generally get from the guarded Snowden throughout the rest of the book. These excerpts were all the more necessary, as this really is a book about the personal—no further details of public significance are released in this title, which is a work primarily of analysis and reflection ... while many parts of the book are truly gripping...it is the author’s underlying themes and motivations that truly deserve our attention ... It’s these little pieces of not-exactly-earth-shattering, but still pleasantly informative detail that help the book keep ticking over and compensate for the often distant tone of its author ... Snowden...methodically [explains] everything from SD cards, to TOR, to smart appliances, to the difference between http and https, to the fact that when you delete a file from your computer, it doesn’t actually get deleted. He bestows the same attention to detail on these subjects as he does describing the labyrinthine relationships of his various employers and the intelligence agencies, and this clarity helps turn the book into a relatable story about issues rather than a jargon-stuffed, acronym-filled nightmare ... a book, and a story, that is more about substance than style.
... a riveting account and a curious artifact. The book is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about Snowden, but when it comes to privacy and speech and the Constitution, his story clarifies the stakes ... The second half of Permanent Record reads like a literary thriller ... weaves together personal intel and spycraft info, much of it technologically elaborate yet clearly explained.
...fascinating ... The closing part of the book is a riveting account of the way Snowden went about acquiring documentary evidence of the tools and approaches that the NSA developed in order to comply with the 'never again' orders they had received from their political masters in the wake of 9/11 ... He is also refreshingly frank about the emotional torment that this secretive project imposed on him, particularly his anguish at having suddenly to abandon his beloved girlfriend, Lindsay, without being able to give her any warning of what he was about to do. If anybody thinks that whistleblowing is easy, then they haven’t ever done it.
Once you're through the formative parts of his life, which aim to contextualise his ultimate decision to take documents from the NSA facility in Hawaii where he was working, the title becomes akin to a spy thriller. If the revelations that came from Snowden were explosive, his recounting of their disclosure is a crescendo. Everything builds to the moments where he anxiously waited for journalists to arrive at his hotel room to hand over the top secret documents and the subsequent rush to find a safe location, involving a brush with Russia's FSB, in the aftermath of their disclosure ... Although it is unlikely to change anyone's mind about Snowden's actions, Permanent Record is the whistleblower's own attempt to tell his story.
... seems to have been written reluctantly: a memoir by a celebrity dissident dedicated to the cause of digital privacy. There were surely market incentives for the book to take the form it has: publishers prefer personal revelations to manifestos. But for all the storytelling it is a manifesto all the same. The innocent boy grows up in a digital paradise that becomes a fallen world when government and capital learn how to control it ... In revealing everything he did, including his own identity, to the probable detriment of his health, wealth and sanity, Snowden was also violating his own privacy. Permanent Record takes that self-violation as far as it can go. About the other characters in his life, there is just enough to provide the narrative with colour.
Permanent Record is an attempt to reverse the binoculars and offer a self-portrait of the man—whistleblower? leaker? dissident? spy?—who walks the earth, these days in Moscow, under the name Edward Snowden ... Snowden’s book is straightforward, admirably so. He has taken the risk of assuming that his reader is interested not only in...the brazen act that earned his fame and notoriety, but also in the formation of his personality, and the slow growth of his understanding of technology, espionage, surveillance, and human rights. Despite his gifts at computer programming, he has no interest in persuading you that he’s unusual; quite the opposite ... His memoir is also a before-and-after account of September 11. Here again, his book succeeds in the act of earnest witnessing ... How does one decide to become the dissident, the scapegoat, the whistleblower? Snowden seems as mystified as we are. It is as if one day the question simply appears, fully formed: Why am I the one who cares? ... Permanent Record peaks a bit earlier than Snowden thinks, and than the reader might expect. The intimate drama of his discoveries and self-discoveries, of the inception of his appetite for virtuality and for systems, of the rise of his patriotism in both its early-naive and late-embittered phases, of his minor adventures as an ordinary operative with an extraordinary mind, and, above all, the helpless formation of his ethical crisis—these make terrific reading. What a strangely ordinary man: Snowden’s either the least enigmatic cipher or the most gnomic nonentity ever to live. You could watch him study himself forever. Yet from the moment Snowden hits the public sphere, the book wilts ... One feels that from the instant Snowden opens the door in the Hong Kong hotel and decants himself to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras...he’s a ghost in his own tale.
... well-written, frequently funny, and suffers from one glaring omission. Even so, in a world much more attuned to the downsides of digitisation than it was in 2013, it offers a useful reminder of the god-like omniscience that digital data can bestow on those with the power to collect it all ... Mr Snowden’s critique of government overreach is powerful. But whether through his own fault or otherwise, it is one made from a compromising location. Whatever his relationship with the Russian authorities, and whenever it began, everything he says in Permanent Record—about himself, and about America—must be seen through the prism of his dependence on the Kremlin.
Snowden demonstrates a knack for explaining in lucid and compelling language the inner workings of these systems and the menace he came to believe they posed ... But the consuming concern for personal privacy that he says compelled his leak works against him as the author of a memoir. He revealed some of the U.S. government’s most closely guarded intelligence programs, but he withholds from readers any truly revealing material about his own life. As a result, Permanent Record is a book that mostly skims the surface of Snowden’s relatively familiar life story. It becomes more energetic when he expounds on the architecture of sprawling computer systems that hoover up our personal data and the perils they pose to humanity ... One of this book’s greatest flaws is that it gives us almost no meaningful insight into that life of perpetual exile ... what is that existence really like? Does he have regrets? To what extent has he pursued a possible return to the United States? And most important, how has he adapted to life in a nation known for the sort of repressive surveillance that he feared was encroaching on his own country? The speaker of truth doesn’t answer.
A large chunk of the book covers Snowden’s careful accumulation of documents and his preparatory efforts to contact sympathetic journalists. This section is at times thrilling and mournful, as Snowden, operating in total secrecy, even from his girlfriend, knows his life will be irrevocably altered ... It’s hard at times to reconcile this Snowden with one who supports the continued existence of seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies, but this dissonance marks much liberal-left thought about the IC and U.S. foreign policy. Despite being deeply literate, he doesn’t seem to consider the historical role of the IC as an enforcer of American empire and a tool for repression of domestic dissidents.
Snowden has no new bombshells in his book. But he offers a very readable memoir about growing up with the Internet, a detailed rationale for his actions, and a look at how government surveillance has evolved since his disclosures ... Snowden says almost nothing about Russia in his book, which seems odd, since he regularly speaks out in his interviews.
Tediously lengthy and complex stories of [Snowden's] assignments will be most meaningful to computing professionals, as the most fascinating passages probe the concerns that drove him to release the top-secret report; how his life and that of his now wife was uprooted; and his life in Russia, which granted him asylum ... For those fascinated by electronic spying or impassioned by the issue of privacy rights, Snowden’s memoir casts an enlightening view of the U.S. intelligence community despite sometimes being marred by cumbersome jargon.
You know that guy from computer support who works in your office? Would you buy his autobiography? ... There’s no doubt that Snowden, whose release of top secret files to journalists in 2013 sparked a global furore, is a very significant figure in the history of intelligence and the development of modern attitudes to privacy. But is he capable of writing an interesting account of his life? ... lacks many revelations or much sense of the wider context of the author’s actions, it will be most satisfying to lovers of technology, less so to the general reader.
Permanent Record, though not without moments of sincerity and warmth, is suffused with the author’s pubescent arrogance ... Early in the book it becomes clear that Mr. Snowden’s aim isn’t so much to justify his decision to expose a menacing intelligence enterprise as to build sympathy for himself and ill feeling for his accusers ... One can’t help thinking that Mr. Snowden was looking for a reason to show the world his high principles and courage. If it hadn’t been mass surveillance, it would have been something else.