If you avoid Joe Rogan’s show like the plague because you’re uncomfortable with the fact that he gives a platform to conspiracy theorists and nut-job UFO enthusiasts, then… we get it. But know that you’re also missing out on some seriously great interviews. The man knows how to draw big-name guests, and his unfiltered long-format interviews are the perfect window into any given subject’s thoughts. From Elon Musk to Bernie Sanders, Rogan’s wide appeal guarantees an interesting interview no matter who the subject is, though it helps when it’s someone like Neal Brennen and not, you know, Alex Jones.
This week, the comedian spoke with Edward Snowden over webchat — not the usual format for the show but obvious exceptions were made — for a nearly three-hour conversation that covered everything from the possibility of Snowden starting a YouTube channel, to what day-to-day life is like living in exile, to the pervasiveness of the surveillance state in the wake of smartphones. Since there is a high likelihood that you don’t have the time, enthusiasm, or patience to sit through the full interview, we’ve picked out the most interesting moments so you’ll know everything the duo chopped it up about.
Though the pair cover a wide amount of already known information — such as why Snowden became a whistleblower in the first place — the full interview is fascinating and we highly suggest taking some time to give it a listen, if only to hear Snowden making fun of Joe Rogan’s insane logo.
On How Your Smart Phone Listens To You
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone to hear that your smartphone is listening to you. We’re past the point of getting freaked out when the thing we just talked to our friend about is the first targeted ad when we scroll through a social feed. We’ve been told by companies like Apple that this is what is called machine learning, and that information is between you and your phone to make your life more convenient. While that may be true, your habits are still being tracked.
“Both Apple and Android devices, unfortunately, are not especially good at protecting your privacy… If somebody sends you a message, the screen blinks to life, how does that happen? … Every smartphone, every phone at all, is constantly connected to the nearest cellular tower, every phone even when the screen is off… is screaming in the air saying … ‘here is my IMEI…’ Every cell phone tower with its big ears is listening for these little cries for help… and it compares notes with the other network towers … and that cell phone tower is going to make a note, a permanent record saying ‘this phone handset with this phone number at this time was connected to me,’ and based on your phone… they can get your identity… the movements of your phone are the movements of you as a person and those are often quite uniquely identifying…
“Whenever you’re carrying a phone, whenever the phone is turned on, there is a record of your presence at that place that is being made and created by companies. It does not need to be kept forever… but these companies see that as valuable information… Where were you when you were eight years old, where did you go after you had a bad break up, who did you spend the night with, who did you call after, all of this information used to be ephemeral… but now these things are stored, now these things are saved, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing anything wrong, whether you’re the most ordinary person on earth because that’s how bulk collection works.”
Snowden goes on to say that all of this doesn’t even account for the apps that are constantly talking to networks, and storing analytics. So go to sleep knowing that everything you do is very public!
Snowden on Life In Exile
If you thought Edward Snowden was still held up in the Russian embassy, it turns out he’s living in a situation akin to someone living in America under a green card. While the first few years of his exile were marked with paranoia, we’re pleased to hear that Snowden is living a relatively normal life.
“I was an indoor cat to begin with… As long as I had a screen and internet connection I was pretty happy, but in the years past my life has become more and more open. Now I speak openly, I live openly, I go out and ride the metro, I go to restaurants. I go for walks in the park… I’m almost never recognized.”
Adding that when he is recognized, it’s usually in an electronics store, and is always more surprising than it is daunting.
Snowden on Returning Home
On the prospect of Snowden returning to the States, Rogan pointed to previous comments he’s made about his desire for a fair trail and what that means.
“The chance of me getting a fair shake in the eastern district of Virginia, a couple of miles from the headquarters of the CIA, is probably pretty slim… but my objecting here is on a larger principal, what happens to me is less important… then what I’m actually requiring the government to agree to… We want to tell the jury why [we] did what [we] did. That the government is violating laws… human rights, that these programs are immoral and unethical… and the government has responded saying ‘we demand the court forbid this guy from breathing the word whistleblower in court. He cannot talk about what motivated him, he cannot talk about what was revealed, why it was revealed, what the impacts and effects were, he can’t talk about whether the public benefitted or was harmed by it…’
The espionage act that the government uses against whistleblowers… is fairly unique in the legal system in that it is what’s called a strict liability crime… A crime worse than murder… the jury is not allowed to consider why you committed a crime, they’re only allowed to consider if you committed a crime… the Espionage Act in every case is a law the government exclusively uses against people who told the truth”
On Snowden’s Open Criticism of Putin
“What’s the alternative? Yes, the Russian government could screw me, but they could screw me even if I didn’t say anything. So should I shut up and be quiet in the face of things that I think are injustices because it makes me safer? … I didn’t come forward to be safe. If I wanted to be safe I’d still be sitting in Hawaii making a hell of a lot of money to spy on all of you… the system, the world, the future gets worse every day that we don’t do something about it. Every day that we stay silent about all the injustices we see the world gets worse.”
“All those years that I was sitting hoping for someone else to come forward and no one did, that’s because I was waiting for a hero. But there are no heroes, only heroic decisions. You are never further than one decision away from making the difference, it doesn’t matter if it was a big difference, it doesn’t matter if it was a small difference, you don’t have to save the world by yourself, in fact, you can’t.
All you have to do is lay down one brick, all you have to do is make things a little bit better in a small way so that other people can lay their brick on top of that or beside that, and together step by step, day by day, year by year, we build the foundation of something better.”
“I’m not saying everybody at the FBI is bad, I’m not saying everybody at the CIA and the NSA is bad, I’m saying you don’t become a patriot based on where you work. Patriotism is not about loyalty to government… Patriotism is a constant effort to do good for the people of your country.”
On the Power Disparity Between The Powerful And The People
“We’re forced to live naked before power, whether we’re talking about Facebook, whether we’re talking about Google, whether we’re talking about the government of any country they know everything about us… and we know very little about them, and we’re not allowed to know more. Everything that we do now lasts forever not because we want to remember but because we’re not allowed to forget, just carrying a phone in your pocket is enough.”
This really only scratches the surface of the interview, check out the full thing below, it’s endlessly fascinating. Edward Snowden’s new autobiography, Permanent Record, is out now.