Edward Snowden, arguably the world’s most famous whistleblower, is a man who lived behind plenty of pseudonyms before putting his true name to his truthtelling: When he was first communicating with the journalists who would reveal his top secret NSA leaks, he used the names Citizenfour, Cincinnatus, and Verax—Latin for “truthful” and a knowing allusion to Julian Assange’s old hacker handle Mendax, the teller of lies.
But in his newly published memoir and manifesto, Permanent Record, Snowden describes other handles, albeit long-defunct ones: Shrike the Knight, Corwin the Bard, Belgarion the Smith, squ33ker the precocious kid asking amateur questions about chip compatibility on an early bulletin board service. These were online video game and forum personas, he writes, that as a teenager in the 1990s he’d acquire and jettison like t-shirts, assuming new identities on a whim, often to leave behind mistakes or embarrassing ideas he’d tried out in online conversations. Sometimes, he notes, he’d even use his new identity to attack his prior self, the better to disavow the ignoramus he’d been the week before.
That long-lost internet, Snowden writes, offered its inhabitants a “reset button for your life” that could be pressed every day, at will. And he still pines for it. “To be able to expand your experience, to become a more whole person by being able to try and fail, this is what teaches us who we are and who we want to become,” Snowden tells WIRED in an interview ahead of his book’s publication tomorrow. “This is what’s denied to the rising generation. They’re so ruthlessly and strictly identified in every network they interact with and by which they live. They’re denied the opportunities we had to be forgotten and to have their mistakes forgiven.”