updated 02:07 pm EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
Whistleblower addresses US cyber defense weakness, need for privacy
Despite US officials' protestations, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden addressed a packed venue at SXSW today, by way of a Google Hangout routed through no less than seven proxies. In his hour-long moderated conversation, Snowden said that end-to-end encryption with readily-accessible tools are the keys to privacy. Additionally, he cited NSA leadership and intrusive surveillance as a reason for the onslaught of digital intrusion by hostile powers, caused by weakening of US cyber defenses.
In front of a digitally-inserted backdrop of the US Constitution, Snowden noted that current telecommunication methods are encrypted at both ends, but the hosting company often decrypts the content in the middle of the stream to monetize the communications. However, if users take steps for independent encryption, the actions would offer sufficient privacy protection unless a significant amount of effort goes into decrypting the communications by would-be surveillance agencies.
Addressing the NSA surveillance that prompted his self-imposed exile to Russia, Snowden said that "it's nothing we asked for. It's not something we wanted." The whistleblower also emphasized the need for effective and public oversight of intelligence-gathering agencies as well as law enforcement.
Snowden claims that the exuberance that NSA officials Keith Alexander and Michael Hayden shifted to an offensive posture in cyber surveillance of all citizens weakened the country's defenses while eroding privacy protections at the same time. "We've actually had tremendous intelligence failures because we've been monitoring everybody's communications rather than suspects," claimed Snowden.
Last week, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, attempted to get the SXSW organizers to cancel the presentation, claiming that "Mr. Snowden has put the lives of our soldiers, sailors and airmen at risk -- in addition to the lives of the people who will attend your conference." He called Snowden "no more a whistleblower than were Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, or Benedict Arnold" and "both a traitor and a common criminal." The SXSW organizers declined Pompeo's request.
"What did we get from bulk collections?" Snowden asked. "We got nothing." In response to a question about second thoughts about what he had done, Snowden said that "would I do this again? The answer is yes. I took an oath to support the Constitution, and I saw that the Constitution was violated on a massive scale."