18 March, Hannover
The highlight of CeBIT Global Conferences on the third day of the CeBIT show here in Hannover, was undoubtedly the two back-to-back interviews conducted by celebrated TV journalist Brent Goff. The first interview was with Glenn Greenwald, who has authored the book The Intercept.
Glenn Greenwald, an American lawyer, journalist and author, has been called “The Gatekeeper” of Edward Snowden’s secrets. Greenwald was responsible for communicating Snowden’s findings on the NSA’s abuse of power.
As we know, Snowden was an NSA contractor and his revelations about the agency’s breach of privacy have been highly controversial and widely reported.
But the star that everyone was waiting for (and the interview was at 5 p.m.) was Edward Snowden.
So, immediately after the Glenn Greenwald interview, Goff called for Edward Snowden’s stream to be projected on screen.
“Edward, are you there?” asked Brent. “I certainly am,” replied Snowden, and the video stream appeared a few seconds later to much applause from the audience.
“You can’t be with us on this stage (in Germany). Do you feel let down by the German government?” asked Goff.
Pondering carefully before delivering a carefully structured reply, Snowden said there is clear public support and universal opinion for resolving problems, confronting issues.
“It’s not something that we should express disappointment in or feel sad about. Think about it, there is an opportunity. Engineers and scientists look for unanswered questions. What we are seeing in the wake of 2013 is not really about surveillance. It is about the markets. Increasingly governments view themselves as a critical class that have a certain set of interests to the public. It’s not as if the German Federal government isn’t aware about the public’s opinion on the issue of protection of the asylum. In my case, the US would take some kind of action against the German government. Germany is a leading EU nation with a strong economy and has an established tradition of defending individual and collective rights. Angela Merkel is not a person who hasn’t seen this kind of international… that doesn’t mean she is politically naive.”
When asked if the world has been empowered by what he has done, Snowden said, “When you have more access to information, you can reach better decisions. But the real problem in the 2013 period was the disparity. Intelligence agencies knew everything about everyone. And we did not even know they were watching us. This creates a gigantic division or disparity, not just in capability or social power — it’s simply about understanding the kind of world we live in.”
It has been reported that Snowden wants to return to the US, but is anything being done about it? Will the US justice system allow him to present his case to a jury?
“I think it is the best resolution for the Federal Government and the public,” said Snowden. “We don’t want to be the kind of government where people have to seek shelter in other countries to seek any kind of justice. I want to tell the jury why I did it, and I want the jury to decide whether it is right or wrong. Our rights and our constitution were being violated in secret. But the law forbids it.”
“Under this law, if you went to court and said, ‘Yes I disclosed secrets and the reason I did it was that these should never have been kept secret in the first place, and therefore I was justified in doing what I did.’ But he is barred by the law even from raising this as a defence. No judge will even allow him to says those words in front of a jury. Once the government says something secret, and if you disclose it, you are guilty under the stature. So he can’t make that argument to a jury.”
When asked whether he was concerned about the fact that if he went back to the US, he would encounter people who want to get rid of him, Snowden said that it was consequential but there were more important issues for him to think about.
“When you anger powerful people, there is going to be a desire to retaliate and a desire to project force and to present to the public some kind of deterrent effect. What you can’t worry about is that you will never be able to do anything (about this). You will never be able to make any kind of decision or (address) any kind of consequence, because you are going to be concerned what other people might do. I don’t think about tomorrow, a week later, a month — I think about today. I think about what I can do today to try to make these problems a little bit smaller. What can I try to do to enforce our rights a little bit better, not just in the US but around the world in places like Latin America, Africa, France, and Belgium? This is not a national problem — this is a global problem. We are losing control over government. We are not able to direct and dictate policies that we want our societies to pursue.”
And in his final message to a captive audience of techies Snowden wanted to highlight a few points that haven’t been well covered in the media and ignored to a large extent.
“I think one of the biggest things that has not been well covered is that we are seeing systemic attacks on the fat of our systems and the fat of our communication systems – the Internet, not just as a target but as an infrastructure. A lot of people have talked about … between security and privacy risks but the reality is it is not security risks, but it’s … Surveillance is not possible when our movements and communications are detected. Satellites can’t see you when you are inside your home. But an unprotected computer with a webcam can. We know for a fact that the GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of NSA, has developed departments to allow systems to intercept our private conversations. We know that they hacked into service providers like the Belgium telecommunications provider. We know that they hacked into Gemalto, a SIM card manufacturer to try to get the keys that are used for local encryption. And that affects not one person, not thousands, but millions. This is happening more and more. And we need to be thinking about ways to prevent this.”
Read the report on the SIM card hack here: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-31619907
The Guardian reports that the UK’s electronic eavesdropping and security agency, GCHQ, has been secretly gathering intelligence from the world’s biggest internet companies through a covertly run operation set up by America’s top spy agency.
Read the report here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/07/uk-gathering-secret-intelligence-nsa-prism
“When you talk about security and surveillance, there is no golden key. The only way that we can allow mass surveillance to occur is if we are all more or less electronically connected,” continued Snowden.
“They are looking for people with access to infrastructure and private records. They are looking for service providers and system administrators. So it is important for us to come together and prevent that from happening. We have to enforce our rights using technology and that means instant encryption to protect communications in transit. And we have to make this transparent to users.”
Snowden said millions of individuals are looking for ways to feel safe. “If you can provide safety to users and do not work against the interests of users and societies, you will have a competitive service and the ability to compete. This is needed for journalists, activists, lobbyists and whistle blowers.”
Finally he was asked if and when he left Russia, would he come and speak at CeBIT Global Conferences, Snowden replied, tongue in cheek: “Sure, let’s ask Angela Merkel, first!”.