Snowden: NSA leaks fueled needed debate on spying

A recent, undated picture received from Channel 4 on December 24, 2013 shows US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden
A recent, undated picture received from Channel 4 on December 24, 2013 shows US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said Monday he has no regrets over his leaks about mass surveillance programs, saying they sparked a needed public debate on spying and data collection.

Snowden, who spoke via video link from Russia to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, said he revealed the programs of the US National Security Agency and other such services to foster "a better civic understanding" about what had been secret programs.

He said his decision to leak documents to journalists "wasn't so I could single handedly change the government; what I wanted to do was inform the public so they could provide their consent to what we should do."

Snowden, a former NSA contractor who has been in hiding in Russia and has been charged in the United States with espionage, maintained that "every society in the world has benefited" from the debate on surveillance.

"Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we have a right to know," he said on the link with members of the American Civil Liberties Union, who noted that the hookup was routed through seven proxy servers to keep his location secure.

Snowden, who appeared against a backdrop of a giant copy of the US constitution, said the NSA programs have fundamentally altered the rights outlined in the charter.

"The interpretation of the constitution has been changed from 'no unreasonable searches and seizures,' to 'any seizure is fine, just don't search it,'" he said.

Snowden said he chose to speak to SXSW because he believes it is important to encourage technology companies to make changes to stem mass surveillance.

"The people who are in the room in Austin right now, they are the folks who can really fix things through technical standards," he said.

Snowden said more companies should adopt robust encryption that is built into communications without users having to use complex technical tools.

He maintained that if encryption is too complex, "people aren't going to use it; it has to happen automatically, it has to happen seamlessly."

If online communications are fully encrypted at all stages, Snowden said, bulk would become too difficult for intelligence agencies.

He also said the NSA and other agencies have devoted too many resources to this type of bulk collection and not enough to traditional methods to catch criminals and terrorists.

"We've had tremendous intelligence failures because we are monitoring everybody's communications, instead of suspects," he said.

He cited the Boston marathon bombings as an example, saying "if we hadn't spent so much on , if we followed traditional models, we might have caught" the suspects.

Congress needs watchdog

One of the questions came via Twitter from Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, who thanked Snowden and asked how to make an intelligence oversight system more accountable.

Snowden said "the key factor is accountability" and that Congress needed a watchdog because it failed to adequately oversee the NSA.

"We can't have officials who can lie to the Congress and not face any consequences," he said. "We need a watchdog that watches Congress."

Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed widespread surveillance of individuals and institutions in the United States and around the world.

He received temporary asylum in Russia in August—a move that infuriated the United States and was a key factor behind President Barack Obama's decision to cancel a summit with counterpart Vladimir Putin last year.

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Mar 10, 2014
he looks different

Mar 11, 2014
The unbalanced Snowden continues to assert his twisted and self-deluded justification for breaking several important laws and pretends to be some kind of martyr to a higher cause of "better civic understanding". If it was so important that the American public know details of the NSA's intelligence gathering programs, why didn't others break the news? Dozens of Senators knew about it and had oversight. Lots of NSA employees and contractors knew it. My guess is because the moral center of their brains wasn't stunted like Snowden's. They can weigh the relative value of keeping benign intelligence-gathering programs secret.

It doesn't seem to occur to Snowden that the damage done by his leaking secrets he swore to protect far outweighs any perceived improvement in civic awareness. History is replete with kooks and villains who justified their destructive actions for some minor "noble cause". What they all have in common is a galactic propensity for self-delusion.

Mar 11, 2014
The unbalanced Snowden continues to assert his twisted and self-deluded justification for breaking several important laws

That's an interesting querstion: What is more important? The letter of the law? Or the ideals the law was supposed to express?

Snowden says he saw that the letter of the law was treading all over the ideals. He chose the ideals over the law.

why didn't others break the news?

Others did (e.g. Assange or Manning). For most it's fear that keeps them in line. Look at what has happened to Snowden (and the others). Smear campaigns, false accusations, strongarming of countries to get extradition, imprisonment without upholding the process of the law, ... You think many people would have the guts to face that?

keeping benign intelligence-gathering programs secret

Those programs are used for anything BUT benign purposes. If you had read Snowden's/Assange's/Manning/s revelations at all you'd know that.

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