US entitled to Edward Snowden's proceeds from his new memoir, judge says

Snowden addresses attendees via video link at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon in November 2019. PHOTO: AP

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (NYTIMES) - The federal government is entitled to the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden's proceeds from his new memoir and from several of his paid speeches because he did not submit the material, which referenced intelligence activities, to federal agencies in advance, a federal judge has ruled.

Judge Liam O'Grady of the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, said in his ruling on Tuesday (Dec 17) that Snowden, who disclosed top-secret documents in 2013 about National Security Agency surveillance programs, had previously signed agreements with the CIA and the NSA allowing them to review disclosures about certain intelligence-related work before he made them public.

In his memoir published in September, Permanent Record, Snowden recounts how he came to be alarmed by the growth of the security agency's surveillance capabilities - including its then-secret systematic collection of logs of Americans' domestic phone calls - and how he copied documents and provided them to the news media.

He did not submit the book for review, and the Justice Department sued Snowden, seeking to seize his proceeds from it, the same day it was published.

Snowden had argued that the government had said it would not review his materials in good faith and within a reasonable time.

He also argued that he should be allowed to find out whether the federal government was singling him out and had "resolved not to permit him to earn a living by speaking or writing," according to an earlier legal filing.

But O'Grady disagreed, saying in a 14-page opinion that the memoir "contains information which both the CIA and NSA Secrecy Agreements obligated Snowden to submit for prepublication review."

Brett Max Kaufman, a lawyer for Snowden, said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that it was "far-fetched to believe that the government would have reviewed Mr Snowden's book or anything else he submitted in good faith."

"For that reason, Mr Snowden preferred to risk his future royalties than to subject his experiences to improper government censorship," Kaufman said.

It was not immediately clear if Snowden would appeal the ruling, but Kaufman said "we disagree with the court's decision and will review our options."

Snowden has been celebrated as a whistleblower by advocates for privacy and civil liberties but denounced as a traitor by some national security officials.

His disclosure in 2013 prompted a worldwide debate about the reach of modern government-surveillance programs.

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