Glenn Greenwald speaks on government surveillance in a digital age

Clarissa Davies

It is human nature to abuse power if there are no limitations, according to Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald, author, lawyer and journalist, spoke on government surveillance Wednesday night. (Photo credit: Cisco Mora)
Glenn Greenwald, author, lawyer and journalist, spoke on government surveillance Wednesday night. (Photo credit: Cisco Mora)

Greenwald, the journalist known for leaking Edward Snowden’s documents, spoke Wednesday night in Fort Collins on the elimination of privacy in the digital age, motives of the National Security Agency and their surveillance programs and the subversion of democracy in a talk titled “The U.S. Surveillance State in the Age of Fear.” Greenwald also came to promote his book, “No Place to Hide.”


While working with Snowden, Greenwald published controversial stories revealing how the NSA required Verizon Wireless to hand over their phone records, which in turn revealed the government’s surveillance motives. His reporting for The Guardian was awarded a pulitzer prize for public service.

Greenwald has continued his investigations into the NSA and their motives to store and examine all communications exchanged inside the United States. According to Greenwald, these records amass to “mind-bending” amounts of data collected.

“The role of the NSA is to collect and store all communications,” Greenwald said. “The motto of the NSA is ‘collect and store it all’.”

Greenwald spoke of how our model of government leaves the door open for tyranny if it is not transparent and held accountable for its actions.

“Those who wield political power know everything about what the citizenry is saying and doing, while the citizenry knows almost nothing about what those who wield political power are doing because they do it behind a wall of secrecy,” Greenwald said. “This is why people who wield public power need some sort of safeguard. The only way we should be comfortable with that sort of power being exercised is if it is accompanied by extreme levels of accountability and transparency and limitations.”

Greenwald spoke heavily about the NSA, how it is “a government within a government” that uses force of law to conceal its activities under a ‘classified’ label, which, according to Greenwald, contradicts democracy.

He also spoke about the sanctity of privacy and why it is crucial for humans to have a place where we can exist without judgment or someone watching us.

“Every person has things to hide,” Greenwald said. “We all instinctively understand why privacy is so critical.”

Many Colorado State University students and professors attended the talk.

“I think Glenn’s talk reminds us all of the importance of journalism and the work of journalists in letting us know what is going on in society,” said Kris Kodrich, associate professor at Colorado State. “His words here tonight remind us of the freedom of information. The information that the government produces is the people’s information.”


Collegian Reporter Clarissa Davies can be reached at or on Twitter @DaviesClarissa.