The U.S. Justice Department this week filed suit against former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden and his publisher, Macmillan, looking to seize Snowden's proceeds from his new memoir. In the suit, U.S. attorneys argue that the manuscript was not submitted for review to the intelligence agencies Snowden worked for, and that the publication violates the nondisclosure agreements Snowden signed in exchange for getting access to classified information.
The suit comes as Macmillan’s Metropolitan imprint released Snowden’s memoir Permanent Record this week. As a National Security Agency contractor, Snowden in 2013 leaked a cache of top-secret documents that exposed the U.S. government’s domestic surveillance and data collection efforts. Snowden has since been living out of the reach of U.S. authorities, in Russia.
The suit does not seek to bar publication of the book. Among the remedies it seeks, the DoJ is asking for damages for any proceeds Snowden has already received, as well as a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction “freezing all assets in Macmillan’s possession relating to Permanent Record that belong to Snowden or his agents, assignees, or others acting on his behalf,” as well as the contracts between Macmillan and Snowden, and his agents; an accounting of all proceeds earned by Permanent Record; a description of all persons and entities with financial interests relating to Permanent Record and the nature of those interests; and a description of the process of disbursing funds to Snowden."
In a statement, Macmillan officials stood by Snowden. “We are proud to publish Snowden’s memoir and make his uncensored story in his own words, available worldwide,” the statement reads. “We are very disappointed that the government has chosen to sue Edward Snowden for telling the deeply personal story about his decision to speak out about our government’s unprecedented system of mass surveillance.”
Announcing the suit, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger said that “Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” and said the suit seeks to ensure that "Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”
In a statement, Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and an attorney for Snowden, said the memoir contains "no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations," and that Snowden did not submit the manuscript for vetting because he didn't believe the intelligence agencies would have reviewed his book in good faith.
“Mr. Snowden wrote this book to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire," Wizner said. "He hopes that the lawsuit by the United States government will bring the book to the attention of more readers throughout the world.”
Notably, the ACLU, along with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, is already challenging the constitutionality of the government's pre-publication review system, arguing that the current rules gives government officials "far too much power to suppress speech the public has a right to hear and to make unexplained censorship decisions influenced by individuals' viewpoints and access to power."
Permanent Record had a first printing of 135,000 copies and has plans for a second printing, a Macmillan spokesperson said.