US government can't try Edward Snowden — so it's going after his book payout

US government can't try Edward Snowden — so it's going after his book payout
Image by Laura Poitras, Praxis Films, CC BY 3.

Edward Snowden remains beyond the reach of the U.S. government's power, residing in Moscow essentially as a fugitive after revealing classified and explosive American surveillance programs he discovered in his work as a contractor for the National Security Agency.

But now, the world-famous leaker and whistleblower faces a new type of legal peril from the United States: the confiscation of his profits.

Snowden has released a new book, "Permanent Record," a memoir of his life that details what he uncovered in his work and what transpired after he went public. This new book, as well, as speeches he has given, were made public "without submitting the necessary materials for prepublication review, in violation of his secrecy agreements and non-disclosure obligations to the United States," the government said in a new civil lawsuit against Snowden and his publishers.

The government asked the court to require Snowden and others involved hand over the "monetary proceeds" of the book, his speeches, and any related material (such as a movie deal) to the United States.

It also wants the court to "enjoin Snowden from any further violations of his contractual and fiduciary obligations, including but not limited to public speeches discussing Permanent Record; any further written works; and any additional speeches that are within the scope of his prepublication review obligations without first undertaking the prepublication review process."

The lawsuit says it does not seek to "restrain publication or distribution of Snowden’s book" — but by preventing the publisher from profiting off its sale, that may be the effect.

Snowden responded to the lawsuit on Twitter:

The ACLU issued a statement opposing the government's position:

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.

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