Prior Restraint

Department of Justice Sues Edward Snowden for Proceeds of New Memoir

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden speaks via video link as he takes part in a discussion about his book “Permanent Record” with German journalist Holger Stark in Berlin, Germany, September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden for publishing his new memoir without submitting the book to the CIA and NSA for a prepublication review. According to the lawsuit, the DoJ is entitled to all monetary proceeds derived from the publication of his book because of contractual agreements Snowden signed while working as a government contractor.

“Snowden voluntarily, willingly and knowingly entered into contractual agreements with the United States of America when he signed his CIA Secrecy Agreements and NSA Secrecy Agreements and he agreed to be bound by their terms and conditions,” the lawsuit argues before clarifying what those terms and conditions were. “Snowden owes to the United States, the CIA, and NSA a fiduciary duty of loyalty to protect from unauthorized disclosure information pertaining to intelligence sources and methods, including signals intelligence activities and information; to submit to the CIA and NSA for review any materials subject to his prepublication review obligations; and to not publish or disseminate those materials or information unless and until the CIA and NSA completed their prepublication review processes and provided written approval of public disclosure.”

See also: Are WikiLeaks’ Actions Protected by the First Amendment?

In 2013, Snowden leaked top-secret NSA documents that revealed numerous U.S. global surveillance programs, and prompted discussions about government surveillance and online privacy. While some hailed Snowden as a whistleblower for sharing information in the name of the public interest, others condemned him as a traitor who jeopardized national security. That same year, the DoJ indicted Snowden for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, and for theft of government property. In order to avoid what he thought would be an unfair trial, Snowden fled to Moscow where he has since been living after Russia granted him asylum.

Snowden’s new memoir Permanent Record, released on the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, recounts his work for the NSA and CIA, and the factors that led him to expose government information.

According to the lawsuit, the DoJ is not seeking to halt the publication of Snowden’s book, but it does ask for a “permanent injunction requiring Macmillan [Snowden’s publisher] to transfer to the United States all proceeds in Macmillan’s possession that Snowden and his agents, assignees, or others acting on his behalf have derived, or will derive, from the publication, sale, serialization, or republication in any form, including any movie rights or other reproduction rights of Permanent Record.”

The lawsuit also asks that Snowden, his agents, or assignees to relinquish any money he earned for speeches that are “within the scope of his prepublication review requirements.”

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and Snowden’s attorney, issued a statement in response to the DoJ’s lawsuit:

“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.”

The ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University are currently working together to challenge the government’s “prepublication review” system, which they argue has given government officials inordinate power to “suppress speech the public has a right to hear.”

This story has an update.

DoJ Complaint The New York Times ACLU Statement