Thursday, March 13, 2014

Edward Snowden On How To End Mass Surveillance

Here's what you need to know about Snowden's SXSW interview. 

"Encryption is defense against the Dark Arts," National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden said via Google Hangout to an audience at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, on Monday. Snowden and the second panelist, Chris Soghoian, as well as moderator Ben Wizner (both from the ACLU), each began the discussion with the same assumption: that mass surveillance is inherently bad.

Why, Wizner asked, had Snowden chosen to make his first public remarks since fleeing the U.S. to a tech festival, rather than, say, a policy community in Washington D.C.? Snowden responded, "There is a policy response that needs to occur. There is also a technical response that needs to occur."

Here, I'll break down the SXSW panel's technological solutions to the problem of mass surveillance. You can read more about the policy recommendations here and here.
Change how companies store data

"South by Southwest and the technology community, the people in the room right now, are the people that can fix our technical standards," Snowden said during the panel. "The people in this room, you are all the firefighters." The fire in question is mass surveillance, and Snowden's immediate solution to the government appropriation of private information collected by technology companies is to change how companies store their information and relay it between users.

The obvious solution, put forth by Wizner, Snowden, and Soghoian, is more and better encryption—to securely send information only from point A to point B without anyone reading it along the way. The problem is that for companies like Google, which make money through advertising, there is incredible value to reading the content of that email. Gmail, simple and straightforward as it is, comes at the price of some privacy.

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