Edward Snowden Q&A: Five Important Takeaways From #AskSnowden

Posted: January 28, 2014 in Articles
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Edward SnowdenRegardless of your stance on Edward Snowden as a whistleblower or a criminal what he has unarguably done is spark an international conversation about online privacy.

Snowden is the man responsible for exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance of both foreign and American citizens by leaking a trove of classified NSA documents to the media in June 2013.

Since that time government surveillance and online data privacy have been blistering hot topics in the news. Exactly one week after President Barrack Obama addressed the nation regarding the NSA and the secretive data collection programs Edward Snowden addresses the world in a public Q&A session.

On Thursday the 23rd of January, in his first public conversation of 2014, Snowden answered twitter questions from the public. The questions posed by the public varied as widely as the individuals attending the online event. Some individuals posed thought provoking, intelligent questions while others offered questions that provoked a smile.

three tweets

In the two and half our public Q&A session Snowden answered thirteen of the millions of questions posed leading us to believe the questions were somewhat cherry picked. Snowden answered questions posed by twitter accounts with as few as three followers as many as two million. In this Q&A it was the content of the question, not the size of the voice, which mattered.

The Takeaways:

1.     Contrary to what you may believe Snowden is not against spying.

“Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance(.)” Later in the Q&A Snowden shows supports for his former colleagues and other intelligence agencies saying “the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the (intelligence community) are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.”

According to Snowden the reason that mass surveillance is such an infringement upon freedom is twofold:

“Study after study has show(n) that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.”

Snowden goes on to point out that mass surveillance without cause essentially means that all citizens are under investigation before any crime has been committed.

“This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.”

2.     Snowden feels the findings of the independent report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board regarding the NSA’s mass surveillance program support his motives.

Snowden quotes from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board PRISM report twice during the Q&A to point out this independent investigation has found no justification for the mass surveillance program.

“We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”

Later in the Q&A when Snowden was asked if he believed that the report would have any impact on mass surveillance programs he again cited the PCLOB report.

“Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government’s efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations.”

3.     Properly implemented encryption can protect citizens from NSA spying.

“How quickly can the NSA, et. al. decrypt AES messages with strong keys #AskSnowden Does encrypting our emails even work?” This was a popular question that took many different forms in on twitter. Snowden’s answer provided a ray of hope that the NSA does not actually have free reign to monitor the entire internet. According to Snowden it would appear that stong encryption algorithms have not been broken and combining their use with a strong encryption key (password) can ensure that private data remain private.

“By combining robust endpoint security with transport security, people can have much greater confidence in their day to day communications.”

4.     Online privacy is a worldwide issue that must be addressed globally.

Snowden believes that technology and science are the answer to the privacy question, not legislation. Legislation can only protect the inhabitants of a one country from themselves; other countries are not obliged to obey their laws.

“(N)ational laws are not going to solve the problem of indiscriminate surveillance. A prohibition in Burundi isn’t going to stop the spies in Greenland…. The easiest way to ensure a country’s communications are secure is to secure them world-wide, and that means better standards, better crypto, and better research.”

5.     Snowden is under no illusions about his safety or hopes of returning to the United States.

An eerie question was posed to Snowden (one of many I am sure):

“@mrbass21 Recently several threats have been made on your life by the intelligence community. Are you afraid for your life? Thoughts? #AskSnowden.”

Snowden addressed this question and stated that it concerned him for two reasons. First, and most obviously, any threat on his life he takes seriously and is concerning. Secondly, Snowden points out that these threats were made on the national news by public officials sworn to uphold the constitution. Such threats violate the due process of the law and men who are willing to violate due process should not be trusted to uphold laws. Finally he states that regardless of the threats, “I’m not going to be intimidated. Doing the right thing means having no regrets.”

With regard to returning to the United States Snowden is not optimistic. Facing several charges under the Espionage Act, which “forbids a public interest defense,” Snowden does not believe that he would be able to receive a fair trial and or be able to present his case to a jury of his peers.

Enhancements made to the Whistleblower Protection Act to protect federal whistleblowers are ridden with loopholes and fail to provide protection to whistleblowers in the national security sector. When asked under what conditions he would return to the U.S, Snowden stated: “Maybe when Congress comes together to end the programs the PCLOB just announced was illegal, they’ll reform the Whistleblower Protection Act, and we’ll see a mechanism for all Americans, no matter who they work for, to get a fair trial.”

A full transcript of the Snowden Q&A can be found here: http://www.freesnowden.is/asksnowden/

About Author: James Green is a security researcher for Android antivirus company Armor for Android. James has worked in the Android security field for several years and provides privacy and security advice to Android users.

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