SXSW: Snowden Touts Encryption, Swipes at NSA

"Live from Russia! Heeeere's Eddie!"
“Live from Russia! Heeeere’s Eddie!”

In a Google Hangout with an auditorium full of South by Southwest attendees, government whistleblower (and former NSA employee) Edward Snowden suggested that encrypted communication should become more ubiquitous and easier to use for the majority of Internet denizens.

“The way we interact with [encrypted email and communications] is not good,” he said from somewhere within Russia, where he resides under the conditions of a one-year asylum. “It needs to be out there, it needs to happen automatically, it needs to happen seamlessly.”

If a “regular” Internet user needs to “go three menus deep” to access encryption options, he added, “they’re not going to use it.”

ACLU principal technologist Christopher Soghoian, who moderated the discussion from a seat onstage, pointed out the obvious irony of privacy advocates using a Google Hangout to broadcast the discussion. Although Google has taken aggressive steps to encrypt its content in the wake of Snowden’s revelations about the extent of the NSA’s online spying efforts, many privacy-minded folks have concerns over how the search-engine giant stores and analyzes user data.

Soghoian believes that, because those so-called “regular” Internet users tend to use the easiest and most widely available tools on the market, the tech giants that offer those tools—including Facebook and Google—should become more aggressive in enacting security measures such as automatically switching on HTTPS when parties communicate. “We need services to be building security in by default,” Soghoian told the audience. “What I want is for the next WhatsApp or the next Twitter to be using encrypted end-to-end communications.”

For his part, Snowden still believes that companies should store user data that contributes directly to their respective business: “It’s not that you can’t collect any data, you should only collect the data and hold it as long as necessary for the operation of the business.”

He also couldn’t resist some choice swipes at his former employer, accusing high-ranking intelligence officials Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander of harming the world’s cyber-security—and by extension, United States national security—by emphasizing offensive operations over the defense of communications.

“America has more to lose than anyone else when every attack succeeds,” Snowden said. “When you are the one country that has sort of a vault that’s more full than anyone else’s, it makes no sense to be attacking all day.”

 

Image: Edward Snowden’s conference feed

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