Edward Snowden, the man who initiated the debate on mass surveillance and the National Security Agency (NSA), further added to this critical dialogue on March 10 at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival. Through a video conference, Snowden spoke with two technology experts from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the role that the technology community has in the fight against the NSA.
Held in Austin, Texas, the Festival brought together the digital-oriented and Snowden, joined by Christopher Sogholan and Ben Wizner, argued that this tech community might be the most effective protection we have from mass surveillance.
“SXSW and the technology community are the folks who can really fix our rights, even if Congress hasn’t yet gotten to technical legislation,” said Snowden. “The NSA is setting fire to the future of the Internet and the people in this room now, you’re the fire fighters. We need you to fix this.”
Snowden and Sogholan went into further details on the type of safeguards needed, specifically looking at encryption. In response to the Snowden revelations, tech companies like Yahoo have begun to make encryption for their users a standard. While it may seem like encryption is a nominal defense against the NSA, it can serve as a significant deterrent.
“If the US government wants to know what you do, they won’t break your encryption, they’ll hack into your devices and find vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched,” said Sogholan. “The goal is to stop the NSA from spying on innocent users – to make it too expensive for the NSA to spy on everyone, to raise the price of surveillance so that it no longer becomes economically viable to spy on everyone.”
Snowden, Sogholan and Wizner’s talk serve as a reminder that mass surveillance is a universal issue that affects us all and thus, requires us all to do our part to end it. Snowden made a great sacrifice when he decided to go public with his allegations and as a result, our society has benefited with a more secure environment.
“What I wanted to do was to inform the public so that they could make a decision and consent to the surveillance,” said Snowden. “I took an oath to protect the country and the interpretation of the Constitution had been changed in secret from ‘no unreasonable search or seizure’ to ‘any search and seizure is fine’ and that’s something everyone should know about.”