Edward Snowden Welcomes Debate On Surveillance, Warns The Fight Is Not Over

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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We need to encrypt everything, the whistleblower tells South by Southwest festival, over a live link from Moscow

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said his disclosures of classified material about surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) was for the public good, in a talk at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas.

Snowden couldn’t attend SXSW in person, since he is currently wanted in the US for espionage and theft of government property. The whistleblower appeared via video feed routed through “seven proxies” from a secret location in Russia, and unfortunately the broadcast was plagued by technical issues.

In his talk, Snowden called for greater government transparency and said it was dangerous to dismiss mass surveillance as a problem limited to the US.

“Every citizen of every country has something to lose, we’re all at risk from this unjustified and unwarranted interference in our private lives,” he said. “If we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will accept it as a ‘green light’ to do the same.”

Ask Snowden

Snowden made headlines across the world last summer, when he revealed the existence of several highly intrusive electronic surveillance projects run by the US government and its allies, including PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora.

Edward Snowden privacy protest NSA US Washington © Rena Schild ShutterstockNew information keeps surfacing as journalists and researchers analyse thousands of documents stolen by Snowden. It recently emerged that the British intelligence agency GCHQ collected images of millions of Yahoo webcam chat users, helped by its American counterpart.

The Snowden revelations were a blow to the Obama administration, which has been forced to make changes to the way the NSA operates. So far, the US government has banned surveillance on leaders of allied countries, limited phone data collection and even allowed technology companies to reveal the number of requests for user data they receive from the NSA.

The disclosures also galvanised Silicon Valley companies, with Yahoo, Microsoft and Google publicly criticising the NSA and announcing plans to encrypt all internal traffic. In his speech, Snowden suggested that extensive encryption could make mass surveillance too expensive and impractical.

tim berners lee © drserg / Shutterstock.comThan ks from Sir Tim Berners- Lee

During his talk, Snowden took questions from the audience, including one about accountability from the “father” of the Internet Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who also thanked Snowden for his actions.

Snowden responded that the existing oversight system could work well, if government agencies would stop covering up the truth and would actually hold each other accountable. He also condemned the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has been accused of giving false testimony to the US Congress on NSA surveillance programmes.

Even though activists have achieved some results armed by the Snowden documents, the whistleblower said there are plenty of things still to be done.

“The government has gone and changed their talking points. They have changed their verbiage away from public interest to national interest,” said Snowden. He warned that instead of wasting resources on surveillance, the US authorities should focus on protecting the country from hackers and improving cybersecurity.

“We spend all of this money, we spent all of this time hacking into Google and Facebook to look at their databases, and what did we get? We got nothing.”

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