AUSTIN, Tex. — Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden warned that the NSA’s overreaching surveillance program will become the norm all over the world if something isn’t done soon.
Snowden. addressed a huge crowd of people in attendance at SXSW 2014 virtually via a Google Hangout video chat today. He has been living in Russia following his decision to leak classified documents about the security agency’s tactics in tracking U.S. citizens, international governments, and companies.
In response to a question on whether the U.S. government’s actions will encourage similar behavior from other countries, Snowden said that he believes it will and that this “is one of the primary dangers of not directly resolving the NSA’s actions.”
“It’s important to remember that Americans benefit profoundly, [from keeping the NSA and others in check] because we’ve got the most to lose from being hacked, At the same time, every citizen in every country has something to lose. We all are at risk of being unfairly, unjustly, and unwarranted interference in our private lives. Throughout history we see government repeat this trend and at some point they cross the line. If we don’t resolve these issues, if we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government in the international community will accept that as a sort of green light to do the same.”
Snowden was also concerned that efforts made by the NSA to circumvent the security on many consumer technologies might have given people the impression that there is no line of defense when it comes to protecting their data.
“Bottom line is that encryption does work. We need to think of encryption not as a sort of arcane black art, but as sort of the basic protections against the dark arts,” he said.
“This is something we all need to not only be implementing but also actively searching for ways to improve encryption.”
Today’s virtual conversation with Snowden was led by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Christopher Soghoian, who outlined that making encryption more difficult to crack would lead to fewer instances of NSA-style tracking, but not simply because it would prove impenetrable.
During the panel, Soghoian explained that a result of better encryption technologies could mean that it takes far more resources to crack. If that happens, he theorizes, governments will be far more selective about what it deems worthy of cracking.
What’s interesting about this viewpoint is that it’s an economic solution to the problem — albeit one that doesn’t actually prevent the NSA from violating U.S. citizens’ right to privacy.