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Snowden to Hackers: Your Tech Skills Can Save Democracy

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 8 comments
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NEW YORK — Hackers and other technologically skilled people have a "civic duty" to educate those less tech-savvy on how to use encryption and other security and privacy tools, Edward Snowden told attendees of the HOPE X hacker conference here yesterday (July 19), adding that democracy and free speech depend on technological knowledge.

"We need to think about how technology empowers us," the former National Security Agency contractor said over a video link from Moscow, where he has lived in exile since leaking thousands of NSA documents last year, "and how governments use that same technology."

MORE: Can You Hide Anything from the NSA?

"You in this room right now have both the means and the capabilities to help build a better future by encoding our rights into the programs and the protocols upon which we rely every day," Snowden said to the audience of hackers.

"If you've even heard of Tor, or TAILS ... if you've even heard of Linux, you are an advocate that is going to help us move forward in shifting the middle ground of technology for the next generation," Snowden continued, referring to an Internet-anonymization protocol, a super-secure software suite and the operating system that suite runs on.

"Any of who know even the slightest bit [about computer security] have a civic duty to help educate people around us, just as in the past, people taught each other to read and write," Snowden said. "We have to teach people in our society how to interact with technology safely and reliably in a way that safeguards the interests of all of us, not just a select few."

'Technology empowers democracy'

The alternative, Snowden said, was to continue the present situation in which only a small percentage of the population understands how to use the latest technologies.

"We don't want a high priesthood of technology, no matter how good that is for us," he said, "because it's bad for the world."

Proper understanding of the latest communication methods helps democracy and freedom, Snowden argued, something that Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, who was questioning Snowden from New York, should be able to understand.

"Technology empowers dissent," Snowden said to Ellsberg. "People forget this because they think only of modern times ... but they forget that technology actually enabled you. People forget about the fact that you were in a garage with a Xerox machine.

"A copy machine may not seem like a killer app to a lot of people, but that enabled you to get this [the Pentagon Papers] back to the public. And that same Xerox machine that gave you that gave us samizdat [underground publications] in the former Soviet bloc," Snowden said. "Technology empowers individuals. It empowers voices. It empowers democracy."

Governments cannot have a monopoly on technology

Snowden clarified to Ellsberg that he didn't think the U.S. government, or even the NSA, was the natural enemy of the people.

"I'm still politically very moderate," he said. "The very first time I met Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong, he called me a radical, and that surprised me, because that was the first time I had ever been called a radical."

"There are so many people throughout the government, throughout the country, who are trying to do the right thing," Snowden said, adding that even among his former co-workers there were "people who saw this was wrong, who agreed this was wrong, who were disturbed by it, who felt we needed to do something. But at the same time, we all have families. We all have lives. We all have things we want to do and things we want to enjoy."

A grave danger, he said, is when less benign governments use the same surveillance tools the U.S. government has developed in even more invasive ways.

"Other governments will make different decisions," he said. "And if we want to live in a better, more enlightened world, what we need to do is we need to remove those capabilities from the governments by enshrining our rights into our means of communications, by denying them those capabilities."

Hacking the Constitution

With regard to the bending of laws and the canon of secret national-surveillance court decisions that has been built to legitimize NSA spying on American citizens, Snowden compared that process to how malicious hackers link together multiple software flaws in order to gain control of someone else's computer system.

"When we look at this in isolation, any step, it might look like clever lawyering by the government," Snowden said. "But when we look at it comprehensively, the government has developed an exploit chain that provides it with the root password to our Constitution. They have escaped the sandbox of our democracy, and they're basically using it to change our Bill of Rights without us seeing it."

The solution, he argued, is greater technological literacy, which will lead to greater transparency.

"When governments realize that when they do unlawful things, when they do unconstitutional things, or when they do things that are entirely legal but comprehensibly immoral, we will find out about it, [then] that will change the world," he said.

MORE: Should You Trust US Companies With Your Data?

'Think about the world we want to live in'

Blowing the whistle on secret NSA programs were worth risking his freedom and losing his comfortable way of life, Snowden said, but others who face similar situations should consider the costs of not pointing out government malfeasance.

"If people aren't willing to take risks to reveal wrongdoing, even if it means they have to burn their own life down to do it, [then] their families are going to have to live in that society," Snowden said. "The values that they hold dear will disappear from the world we live in."

Yet Snowden seemed cautiously optimistic about the future — and began his closing remarks by addressing the "people from the NSA" in the audience.

"To you guys who work for the NSA who are in the room," Snowden said, "I'm not telling you what to do. I'm not telling you what to believe in. It's okay if you hate me. It's okay if you disagree with me. It's okay for everybody to look at this, because we have to decide how we feel.

"We have to stop thinking that what's on the news is the gospel truth, or what an official says behind the podium is exactly the right answer, or what I say is something that you can rely on," he added. "I could be totally full of [expletive]."

"You've got to figure out what you believe, and stand for it," Snowden concluded. "Whether I'm a good guy or whether I'm a bad guy, whether I'm a hero or whether I'm a traitor — none of that matters. Criticize me. Hate me. But think about what matters in the issues. Think about the world we want to live in — and then be part of building that."

Follow Paul Wagenseil at @snd_wagenseil. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    eklipz330 , July 20, 2014 3:59 PM
    as a person who refuses to be blindly loyal to their country, i kinda like this guy
Other Comments
  • 15 Hide
    eklipz330 , July 20, 2014 3:59 PM
    as a person who refuses to be blindly loyal to their country, i kinda like this guy
  • Display all 8 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    Christopher1 , July 20, 2014 6:31 PM
    Quote:
    Surveillance is one of the techniques Left Progressives use to intimidate and ultimately control American citizens.. The ObamaNSA spies on citizens, reads their e-mails, and seizes shipments of computers and i-Phones to plant bugs in these objects. The first true Progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, was a "soft" tyrant, employing various surveillance methods against anyone disagreeing with his domestic and international policies, such as US entry into WWI. When we speak of "Orwellian" societies, we are generally talking about countries run by the Left and socialists--Stalin, Mao, etc. See "Lives of Others" for an insight into Progressive-Socialism at work. Angela Merkel told Obama that NSA actions reminded her of those done by East German spy agency, the Stasi.

    Left progressives? Hate to tell you this bucky, but a bunch of this stuff has had bipartisan support with more left-leaning people like myself speaking out against it then people on the right speaking out against it.
    Both sides love this surveillance nation bullplop until it is turned against them.
  • -1 Hide
    schwatzz , July 20, 2014 7:29 PM
    Quote:
    Surveillance is one of the techniques Left Progressives use to intimidate and ultimately control American citizens.. The ObamaNSA spies on citizens, reads their e-mails, and seizes shipments of computers and i-Phones to plant bugs in these objects. The first true Progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, was a "soft" tyrant, employing various surveillance methods against anyone disagreeing with his domestic and international policies, such as US entry into WWI. When we speak of "Orwellian" societies, we are generally talking about countries run by the Left and socialists--Stalin, Mao, etc. See "Lives of Others" for an insight into Progressive-Socialism at work. Angela Merkel told Obama that NSA actions reminded her of those done by East German spy agency, the Stasi.


    These left-wing progressives are closeted right-wingers.
  • 9 Hide
    g-unit1111 , July 20, 2014 8:41 PM
    Quote:
    Surveillance is one of the techniques Left Progressives use to intimidate and ultimately control American citizens.. The ObamaNSA spies on citizens, reads their e-mails, and seizes shipments of computers and i-Phones to plant bugs in these objects. The first true Progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, was a "soft" tyrant, employing various surveillance methods against anyone disagreeing with his domestic and international policies, such as US entry into WWI. When we speak of "Orwellian" societies, we are generally talking about countries run by the Left and socialists--Stalin, Mao, etc. See "Lives of Others" for an insight into Progressive-Socialism at work. Angela Merkel told Obama that NSA actions reminded her of those done by East German spy agency, the Stasi.


    You do know that George Bush was the one who passed the law enabling warrantless wiretapping, right?
  • 4 Hide
    Pailin , July 21, 2014 3:02 AM
    Nice direction there from Snowden, it does not take That many people to stand up for what is right to make this world a wonderful place.

    A load more would die in petty wars than is needed to stop those same wars they may end up fighting & dieing in anyways.

    the currently seems to be an open flapping window and a degree of missing common sense in the world at the moment.
  • 1 Hide
    wiyosaya , July 21, 2014 9:34 AM
    Quote:
    Surveillance is one of the techniques Left Progressives use to intimidate and ultimately control American citizens.. The ObamaNSA spies on citizens, reads their e-mails, and seizes shipments of computers and i-Phones to plant bugs in these objects. The first true Progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, was a "soft" tyrant, employing various surveillance methods against anyone disagreeing with his domestic and international policies, such as US entry into WWI. When we speak of "Orwellian" societies, we are generally talking about countries run by the Left and socialists--Stalin, Mao, etc. See "Lives of Others" for an insight into Progressive-Socialism at work. Angela Merkel told Obama that NSA actions reminded her of those done by East German spy agency, the Stasi.

    Classic example of someone overdosing on Rush Limbaugh, and, as a result, they lost the ability to think for themselves, objectively analyze data, and come to their own conclusion.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , July 21, 2014 5:33 PM
    Quote:
    as a person who refuses to be blindly loyal to their country, i kinda like this guy


    It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
    Thomas Paine

    “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
    President Theodore Roosevelt

    Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
    John Adams

    If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.
    Samuel Adams

    Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature…. If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.

    James Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States, 1877
    The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.
    Patrick Henry, American colonial revolutionary

    The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
    Patrick Henry
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