Edward Snowden: Here’s how we take back the Internet

Speakers: Ed Snowden – a CIA & NSA computer specialist who came to notoriety when he released internal documents to the public, which showed evidence of spying on USA citizens and foreigners. Currently in exile in Russia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

Interviewed by Chris Anderson – curator and current owner of TED talks with a background in journalism.

Summary

Ed Snowden, currently exiled to Russia for releasing many documents showing evidence of NSA spying on citizens and foreign governments, appears by webcam robot to discuss his decisions to release the documents. An interview style of ‘talk’, rather than the more conventional lecture. Recommended for it’s thought-provoking style and discussion of the ideas of privacy vs security.

Ed as a sysadmin in Hawaii was uncomfortable with the sort of data he discovered, which was being taken in secret without oversight. He released this data to the journalists to encourage the freedom of the press to analyse and release it responsibly. The NSA says most of the things held are ‘metadata’, however PRISM program includes true content as well. When corporate America resisted handing over the content, they were taken to a secret court without oversight or coverage. Most of the main tech giants have given data to PRISM via warrants, but Ed also accuses the NSA of ‘hacking’ into Google’s internal servers to intercept data. For this reason, Ed wants the tech giants to enable encrypted browsing to prevent intelligence services from intercepting your browsing habits.

He talks about an NSA program called ‘Boundless Intelligence’, which intercepts more data from within USA than Russians intercept within Russia – a claim the US should not like to make. The chairman of the senate intelligence committee has minimal oversight of these interceptions, having not even seen audit reports before the Washington Post wanted comment on them.

Chris asked Ed why people should be scared if they have nothing to hide. Ed said this came to the rights of the individual – you shouldn’t give them up just because you might not need them. He said it is too much of an invasion of privacy to give access to all human interaction to all governments.

They then discussed Dick Cheney and some other government comments about this being the worse betrayal in US history, about the dire consequences. Ed countered that they are conflating public interest and national interest – that going to war in places that are no threat to the US does not serve the public interest. He also said that after a year we have seen no dire impacts from his releases.

Bullrush is a program where NSA influences companies to adopt standards which allow them (and other governments) backdoors to access the data. The goal is to weaken security of these companies. This will also weaken USA’s defence against foreign agents. NSA says the goal of these programs is to counter terrorism, but the government has said it has no value. Terrorism is an emotive word, and September 11 attacks were used as a secret justification to begin programs like Bullrush which were previously discussed and believed to be of minimal value.

The talk ends with introducing Tim Berners-Lee to the stage – the inventor of the internet. They discuss a magna carta for the internet- to encode the values of the digital generation into the internet. The ask whether the internet has increased the power of ‘Big Brother’ and their ease of surveillance, or of the public for fighting unlawful invasion of privacy.

When asked whether he would return to the US, he said he’d like to, but not if it would involve betraying his journalistic sources or watering down his message. The last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors, but individuals are also born behind those doors. We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t need to give up our liberty to have security.

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