Edward Snowden spoke at Austin’s South by Southwest conference on Monday morning, touching on topics of massive government surveillance and offering advice on how we can protect our privacy.
Snowden addressed security standards in both public and private spheres, calling on companies like Google and Microsoft to prioritize the protection of the public’s emails and mobile communication. He also argued that companies that relied on mining personal data could still adjust their behavior to do so in a more protective way.
“It’s not that you shouldn’t collect the data,” Snowden said. “But you should only collect the data and hold it as long as necessary.”
The former NSA contractor spoke via a live Google+ chat from Russia, where he has found asylum after leaking classified documents to reporters for The Guardian and The Washington Post. The whistleblower was positioned in front of a green screen that displayed the U.S. Constitution. Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, accompanied him onstage.
Both Snowden and Soghoian emphasized that secure data transmission needs to be mainstream and easy to use, something they hope the tech community at SXSW could help with in the future. “Most regular people are not going to download some obscure security app,” Soghoian said. “They’re going to use the tools they already have.”
When asked via a Twitter question what the average person can do to protect herself, Snowden admitted that these technologies are a “really complicated subject matter today.” He suggested a number of methods, including encrypting your network, encrypting your hard drive and using the security software Tor.
Soghoian predicted that digital privacy will become a premium service in the future.
“If you want a secure online service, you’re going to have to pay for it,” he said.
Prior to Snowden’s appearance, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo released an (ineffective) open letter to the SXSW organizers, demanding that they rescind their invitation to Snowden to speak, calling him a traitor “whose only apparent qualification is his willingness to steal from his own government and then flee to that beacon of First Amendment freedoms, the Russia of Vladimir Putin.”
Snowden concluded the hourlong chat by offering his own explanation for why he chose to leak information about the NSA’s data mining.
“I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I saw the Constitution was violated on massive scales,” he said, garnering applause from the room.
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