Speaking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Edward Snowden has urged the technology community to devise solutions that will protect online communications from snoopers like the NSA.
“[T]he people who are in the room at Austin right now, they’re the folks who can really fix things, who can enforce our rights for technical standards even when Congress hasn’t yet gotten to the point of creating legislation that protect our rights in the same manner…,” he said. “There’s a policy response that needs to occur, but there’s also a technical response that needs to occur. And it’s the makers, the thinkers, the developing community that can really craft those solutions to make sure we’re safe.”
Surveillance carried out by the NSA caused global outrage and concern and Snowden said it had created “an adversarial internet,a sort of a global free-fire zone for governments, that’s nothing that we ever asked [for]; it’s not what we wanted. It’s something we need to protect against,” he said.
He called people to arms saying “[T]hey’re setting fire to the future of the internet. And the people who are in this room now, you guys are all the firefighters. And we need you to help us fix this.”
He offered a solution to the problem, suggesting that end-to-end encryption be introduced so that communications between user to user would be protected. This would mean the government would have to target individual users by the means of hacking, rather than just collecting a mass amount of data.
Snowden’s talk was watched by more than 40,000 online viewers as well as the crowds attending the event in Austin. Conducting the interview were Ben Wizner and Chris Soghoian from the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
Soghoian reiterated Snowden’s point about technical security saying: “Many of the communication tools that we all rely on are not as secure as they could be. Security is often an afterthought, if it’s a thought at all. And really what that’s done is enable global passive surveillance by the U.S. [and] other governments, too.
“So I really think, for this audience, one of the things that we should be thinking about and hopefully taking home, is the fact that we need to lock things down. We need to make services secure out of the box, and that’s going to require a re-think by developers. It’s going to require that developers start to think about security early on, rather than later on down the road.”
“His Disclosures Have Improved Internet Security”
In response to NSA Director General Keith Alexander’s comments that Snowden’s disclosures had weakened the country’s cyber defences, Snowden defended his actions and said “that there have been two officials in America who have harmed our internet security and actually our national security … those two officials are [former NSA and CIA Director] Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander… they elevated offensive operations — that is, attacking — over the defense of our communications.”
Soghoian then went on to say that without these disclosures from Snowden, companies like Yahoo would not have been forced to switch on encryption by default and Google would not have encrypted communications between its data centers.
“Without Ed’s disclosure, many of the tech companies would not have improved their security either at all or at the rate that they did…,” Soghoian said. “Now there are going to be people in this audience and there are going to be people listening at home who think what Ed did was wrong. But let me clear about one really important thing. His disclosures have improved internet security.
“These companies should have been encrypting their communications before and they weren’t and it really took unfortunately the largest and most profound whistleblower in history to get us to the point where these companies are finally prioritizing the security of their users’ communications … We all have Ed to thank for this.”
[Image via Digital Trends]