Last Sunday, Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher and hacker known for being repeatedly detained at the U.S. border because of his past affiliation with WikiLeaks, and Laura Poitras, the documentarian who filmed Edward J. Snowden’s interview in Hong Kong and reported many of his revelations about the N.S.A., were scheduled to take part in a panel about mass surveillance at MOMA PS1, in Long Island City. They both cancelled.

But Poitras sent something in her stead: a statement to be read aloud for event-goers, along with roughly four minutes, previously unaired, from her interview with Snowden. (Additional new footage from the interview was also released earlier today.) Her statement included remarks about her initial contact with him, which began in January. Poitras wrote that, in their early exchanges, Snowden told her that the U.S. surveillance apparatus is a “system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.”

The four-minute video returned us to the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden, unshaven and weary in a gray shirt and semi-rimless glasses, first revealed his identity. Snowden said that the surveillance state was expanding without limits: “The amount they can see, ingest, and analyze is constantly becoming more and more invasive.” More profoundly, he warned, governments are always working to counteract privacy measures and are “trying to return you to the pen of controlled thought.”

Replacing Appelbaum and Poitras in the panel were the former N.S.A. official and whistleblower Thomas Drake, whom Jane Mayer profiled in the magazine in 2011, and the Government Accountability Project’s director of national security and human rights, Jesselyn Radack. They joined the artist and activist Trevor Paglen (who has also been profiled in the magazine).

In a room filled with a hundred or so people, Drake was the most vivid presence. Dressed in an all-black uniform of polo shirt, slacks, and sport coat pinned with a button bearing a large “Q”—it stands for “question everything, especially authority,” he said—he had a lean face, and his brown hair has thinned into a sparse pasture. He spoke with a humorless fervor, like a preacher in a Western. “I’ve lived the surveillance state already,” he said. “This is not something that’s coming. I’ve already lived it.” In the surveillance state, he explained, “There’s never enough data. Never enough. It’s a hoarding complex.”

The emergence of this “hoarding complex,” and technologies to indulge it, is what most frightens Drake and his ilk. “Imagine everything there is to know about your life is provided to the government in secret,” Drake said. “All of it.” Drake elaborated that this cache of data might include phone records, e-mail, search results, social-media profiles, medical histories, credit-card transactions, and E-ZPass records—anything that might pass through a computer network.

Unlike Drake, who sees regulation as a backdoor method for intelligence gathering and privacy violations, Paglen believes in building up civic institutions and establishing firm regulatory mechanisms for private and government actors alike. He lamented that disclosures of surveillance programs and practices have yet to fix the problem. “I think the only way out of this is to actually start shutting these institutions down,” he said. In the case of the N.S.A., he meant actually closing its buildings, firing its staff, and destroying its budget.

Some activists, like Appelbaum, have argued that Internet users can fight back only by encrypting their communications. Drake agreed: “Encrypt the crap out of your life. Why make it easy for the government? Make it as hard as possible.” However, he emphasized—and here he was in agreement with Paglen and Radack—that the surveillance state has inverted the traditional relationship between citizens and their government. In “a surveillance state, by definition, we’re all suspicious.”

This past week, I received a letter from the N.S.A., a response to a Freedom of Information Act request I had submitted on June 13th, asking for any data or records the N.S.A. might have on me. My request was denied, and the N.S.A. could neither confirm nor deny whether they had any information. The explanation, such as it was, continued:

Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods. Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs. Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries’ compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.

Reading the letter, I thought of a remark from Radack: “Information is a currency of power.” Information—my information—is being denied to me. I am apparently in the same position as the government’s “adversaries.” Perhaps I am one. But if I were, who would ever tell me?