On March 10th, 2014, famed whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared live via Google hangouts at the annual SXSW (South by Southwest) Music/Arts/Interactive festival to deliver a rare public presentation regarding the continued use of NSA spy programs against its own citizens, and the rest of the world. With a banner of the Bill of Rights displayed behind him, Snowden addressed thousands people at the festival and watching online.
The quality of the video feed was pretty low as one might imagine, considering the fact that Snowden's signal had to be bounced through seven proxies. Nonetheless, Snowden revealed a wealth of new information as he always seems to do.
There were many important elements to take away from this discussion, including the call for public oversight of U.S. spy programs and increased web security that's “built-in from the beginning” so as to be friendly to the average web user. But perhaps one of the more chilling elements of the talk occurred during a segment in which Snowden revealed how the NSA actually “weakened cyber security defense in order to get attacking [inaudible],” at roughly the 15:00 mark.
According to Snowden, NSA directors Michael Haden and Kieth Alexander have “harmed our internet security and national security” by “elevating offensive operations... over the defense of our communications; they began eroding the protection of our communications...” [in order to attack and surveil].
Snowden points out that, in the post 9/11 era, people thought mass surveillance and storing huge amounts of data for an indefinite period of time would work. But they tried it, and found out that it did not work, and in fact harmed our security by taking the focus off of real suspects while spending too much time and money watching everyone else. How no one could have foreseen this pretty obvious shortcoming in tact remains a mystery.
In response to a question posed by World-Wide-Web creator, Tim Berners-Lee, regarding what he would change about internet security, Snowden replied, "We need public oversight... some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we're not informed, we can't consent to these (government) policies."
Another interesting and important question was posed right around the 31:00 mark, regarding whether it's more dangerous for corporations to store and use your information or if it's more dangerous for governments to do so. Snowden replied saying, “governments have the ability to take away your rights... they can literally kill you.... Corporations will [use information] to sell you a product.”
Snowden remains in Russia and will likely not return to the United States unless he is pardoned. During the discussion, Snowden speculated on what punishment might await him should he decide to return to the U. S. In all likelihood, he would be jailed, confined, denied access to family members, denied access to an attorney, refused trial, and “interrogated with persuasive means.” But despite this, he continues to stay in Russia and fight for Americans' (and indeed the world's) right to privacy. Snowden warns that “every citizen and every country has something to lose” as a result of mass surveillance. We don't want the U. S.'s model of surveillance to inspire any other countries to do the same, nor do we want to continue to be surveilled in the first place. The key to accomplishing this, as Snowden emphasizes, is public oversight.
A video of Snowden's SXSW presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRQTDNbYjqY