At this year’s SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin, Texas, Edward Snowden took to the monitors of a packed auditorium for an interview that was streamed live from an undisclosed location somewhere in Russia. Snowden’s appearance apparently packed the halls of the theater designated to hold attendees for his conference, along with two other overflow halls that could barely contain the number of people who wanted to participate in the one-time-only international event.
During the choppy conversation (the video spent several minutes lagged out and even disconnected twice, requiring intervention from event organizers to continue), Snowden covered a variety of topics, including why he did what he did, the role that telecom and security companies should be filling in the wake of his revelations, and what we as a people can do to be sure an abuse like this never happens again.
“The NSA…they’re setting fire to the future of the Internet. And the people in this room, you guys are the firefighters. We need you to help us fix this,” Snowden was quoted as saying.
Snowden took time to reiterate that although he was proud to have opened so many people’s eyes to the abuses of the NSA, he had also attempted to bring what he felt were massive violations of personal privacy to the attention of his superiors at the agency a number of times before finally going rogue with the cache of stolen documents. He states it was the lack of response from his management team that drove him to take what he knew to the public, and that the NSA had multiple opportunities along the way to acknowledge his concerns and prevent the whole debacle in the first place.
He also extended his gratitude to the crowd at SXSW, claiming that “the tech community are the ones who could help fix this situation, more than the people in Washington”.
In closing, the message was clear: “We need to lock things down and make things secure out of the box. Developers will have to think differently,” he said. With a distinct emphasis on the need for better encryption standards across a wider, more accessible range of platforms, he assured the audience that despite what we’ve been led to believe, the practice works, and that if we all start encrypting our communications with each other and the world, we can start to erode the grip that the NSA and GCHQ currently hold on the backbone of the net and all the information that travels across it.
“They have no idea what documents were provided to journalists, because encryption works,” he said. “We need to think about it not as an arcane dark art, but a protection against the dark arts.”