Edward Snowden: NSA "setting fire to the future of the Internet”

Despite Rep. Mike Pompeo's protests, the NSA whistle-blower addresses SXSW interactive

By Sarah Gray

Published March 10, 2014 4:30PM (EDT)

  (The Texas Tribune)
(The Texas Tribune)

Edward Snowden sounded alarm bells during a SXSW panel on Monday, saying that the United States' government surveillance efforts are "setting fire to the future of the Internet.”

The former NSA contractor made his first live appearance since blowing the whistle on government surveillance last year, and while he noted that there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of encryption technology, he also warned of significant flaws in the U.S. government's approach to cybersecurity.

After he was asked by his lawyer Ben Wizner why he decided to make his first American digital appearance at the tech-driven SXSW Interactive rather than address policymakers, Snowden said, "When we think about the policies that have advanced, there’s a policy response that needs to occur but there needs to be a technical response that occurs." He also addressed how the tech community could combat government surveillance, saying that the biggest weakness of mass surveillance was the price of not just collecting the data but interpreting it.

Snowden suggested more direct encryption -- which makes data collection “more constitutional" -- rather than a huge Internet sweep, would improve surveillance and make it less threatening to personal privacy. "They have to target you specifically,” he said. This would challenge current business models of large tech companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, who currently use individuals' correspondences in order to target users for advertisements.

Snowden is also addressing our misallocation of intelligence, with its emphasis on mass surveillance, explaining that, "If we hadn't spend so much on mass surveillance, we might have caught [the Boston Bombers]." He stated that the U.S. intelligence community might have prevented the attack if it hadn't spend so much time surveilling Google and other Web services.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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