Edward Snowden is a former cyber intelligence consultant and whistleblower, famous for leaking classified information from the US National Security Administration (NSA) which exposed government surveillance programs. He later became an active cryptocurrency supporter, speaking on blockchain technology and the importance of privacy within the digital asset ecosystem.
Snowden is a highly controversial figure, with some calling him a hero for exposing privacy abuse by multiple intelligence organizations, while others view him as a traitor that revealed critical government processes and compromised national security. In June 2013, he was charged with two counts of violating the US Espionage Act of 1917 and fled to Russia two days later. He sought asylum and became a Russian citizen in September 2022.
Snowden was an early Bitcoin user and frequently shares his thoughts on privacy concerns in blockchain technology, along with market predictions and future trends for digital currencies. In recent years, he has spoken at crypto conferences, actively engages with the crypto community on Twitter, and took part in the creation of the Zcash privacy coin.
He has been favorably embraced by the crypto community for his staunch beliefs in internet privacy, personal freedom, and disdain for government overreach – all of which are long-held principles for many crypto enthusiasts.
Edward Snowden was born in 1983 in North Carolina, then moved to central Maryland as a child. He dropped out of high school and studied intermittently in the years after, including taking classes at community college. He has a GED (an alternative to a US high school diploma) but did not receive a college degree.
In 2006, he attended a job fair focused on careers with intelligence agencies and secured a position at the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), assigned to the global communications division. Despite his lack of degree, he displayed an aptitude with computers and technology and received further specialized technology training. He continued at the CIA as a network security technician and had top secret clearance.
Snowden resigned from the CIA in 2009 to work as a contract employee for Dell and managing computer systems for various intelligence agencies. He was stationed at locations throughout Asia, advising officials and military officers, and became an expert in cyber intelligence.
US officials that investigated Snowden believe that he started downloading documents relating to the government's electronic spying programs in April 2012 while working for Dell.
Snowden had become increasingly dismayed by the eavesdropping programs, which he thought were beyond the scope of national security and a serious infringement on citizens’ privacy. Officials estimated that he copied 50,000 to 200,000 NSA documents.
In May 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong where he conducted a series of interviews with journalists from The Guardian. His disclosures provided critical details about programs conducted by US agencies and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance composed of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the US.
Notable leaks included: a court order that required Verizon to hand over phone records for millions of subscribers, the existence of the PRISM program that gave intelligence agencies direct access to servers of top technology companies, the hacking of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong computers, and spying on European citizens and EU officials.
News articles regarding these leaks were originally published in early June 2013 without citing their source, but Snowden revealed himself a few days later, stating that he had done nothing wrong. The US charged him with espionage on June 14. Snowden fled to Moscow from Hong Kong with the assistance of the media organization WikiLeaks, where he has remained.
The leaks prompted heated national discussions about individual privacy, government overreach, domestic and international surveillance, and national security. It led to strained relations between world governments and top officials, and increased awareness about privacy data.
Role in the cryptocurrency community
Snowden was an early adopter of Bitcoin, revealing that he used the currency in 2013 to pay for the servers to transfer thousands of documents to journalists in his infamous intelligence leak. He says that the ability to exchange and transact anonymously is the “foundation of all rights” and believes that some cryptocurrencies can protect users’ privacy.
Criticism of Bitcoin and the crypto industry
Snowden has been critical of Bitcoin’s open ledger system, which he says makes it susceptible to abuse. Bitcoin employs a public ledger that records every transaction, including addresses, amounts, and validation times, which he argues provides insufficient privacy and has compared it to a bank’s ability to track their customers’ movements of funds.
While he has said he’s “very much a fan” of Bitcoin, he believes that its lack of privacy could mean failure in the long-term. “[Bitcoin] is failing as an electronic cash system because cash is largely intended to be anonymous,” he said at a 2022 crypto conference. “I am worried about a world in which our money is used against us.”
Snowden also expressed discontent over what he calls the “financialization” of the crypto industry, saying that users are not focusing enough on the technology to secure privacy. In late 2022, Snowden denounced Coinbase, a large cryptocurrency exchange, of being “overly compliant, overly indulgent” and that it put compliance over the founding ideals of blockchain technologies and customer interests. He went on to criticize any crypto exchange that tracks users’ funds.
Sale of Stay Free NFT
In April 2021, an NFT (non-fungible token) depicting Edward Snowden, titled “Stay Free,” sold for $5.4 million, becoming one of the most expensive NFTs to sell at auction at the time. Snowden said that all proceeds went to The Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit that aims to protect journalists from hacking and government surveillance, where Snowden serves as president.
Role in the creation of Zcash
In April 2022, Snowden revealed that he was one of the six individuals who helped launch Zcash (ZEC), a privacy token. Zcash is a decentralized blockchain that uses zero knowledge proofs to hide transactions and amounts within its ledger.
In 2016, Snowden and five other people combine their portions of the Zcash private key to launch the currency in its parameter generation ceremony. The identities of the individuals were unknown at the time, both to the public and to each other, with Snowden using the pseudonym John Dobbertin. Upon revealing his identity, Snowden reiterated his support for the Zcash private ledger and said he participated in the ceremony out of public interest and was not compensated.
Crypto for usage not an investment
Snowden also stated that he sees more value in cryptocurrency for its use as a medium of exchange rather than as an investment. “I use bitcoin to use it…Generally I don’t encourage people to put their money in cryptocurrencies as a technology and this is what distances me from a lot of people in the community.”
Edward Snowden essentials
- Edward Snowden is a cyber intelligence expert and whistleblower, famous for his highly controversial leak of classified documents exposing government surveillance programs.
- Snowden has become notable in the crypto community in recent years, speaking and tweeting frequently about cryptocurrency, blockchain technologies, and the importance of privacy.
- He recently revealed that he was one of the individuals who helped launch the Zcash privacy coin.