Edward Snowden went to the Web this afternoon to answer technical security questions, state his case and praise the U.S.
Snowden was asked if the U.S. can recover from the way the NSA has damaged our liberties and here he defended and praised his native land. “What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account,” Snowden wrote in the online one-hour chat.
Despite those kind thoughts, Snowden has been in a war of words with the U.S. with the Obama administration playing hardball, wanting him to come home and face the full bevy of charges. Meanwhile Snowden has taken a number of opportunities to know NSA’s tactics.
At the same time, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a yet to air interview that the U.S. “would engage in conversation” as long as Snowden admits responsibility. But with an offer of clemency seemingly ruled out, Snowden could come back to a heap of jail time.
While the majority of Americans believe what Snowden did was wrong, public opinion is also going against the NSA, feeling they are going too far, an attitude publicly shared by President Obama who wants, at the very least, for the NSA to stop hanging onto phone records for so long.
The Snowden revelations did create a stirring debate on privacy and revealed just how far the NSA has been going. This is not nearly enough for President Obama to forgive Snowden’s actions.
“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy," Obama said in a speech about the NSA last week. "Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come."
Snowden Defends Actions
Snowden also vigorously defended his actions and philosophy, this in response to being asked if it was a “shame” that Obama gave a speech about the NSA before getting a report from the Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Writing from his safe haven in Russia, Snowden said “the timing of his speech seems particularly interesting, given that it was accompanied by so many claims that “these programs have not been abused.” Even if we accept the NSA’s incredibly narrow definition of abuse, which is “someone actually broke the rules so badly we had to investigate them for it,” we’ve seen more instances of identified, intentional abuse than we have seen instances where this unconstitutional mass phone surveillance stopped any kind of terrorist plot at all — even something less than an attack. To back that up with the government’s own numbers, according to the NSA Inspector General, we’ve seen at least 12 specific, intentional cases of “abuse” by the NSA,” Snowden argued.
He also argued that this kind of spying is just not effective. “The federal government’s independent PCLOB report on the NSA’s mass phone surveillance today (which stated the NSA has spied on at least 120,000,000 American phones under this program) said this: “We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”” Snowden concluded.
Like hacker Kevin Mitnick before him, Snowden is offering up advice, and even if you don’t agree with the source, these two guys do know what they are talking about.
On the advice side, Snowden was asked how fast the NSA can decrypt AES messages protected by strong keys. “Properly implemented strong encryption works. What you have to worry about are the endpoints. If someone can steal you keys (or the pre-encryption plaintext), no amount of cryptography will protect you,” Snowden replied. “However, that doesn’t mean end-to-end crypto is a lost cause. By combining robust endpoint security with transport security, people can have much greater confidence in their day to day communications.”
Is Any Spying Good?
Some view Snowden as being 100 percent against surveillance, but that is clearly not the case.
“Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap,” he said.
“The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance — the same way we’ve always done it — without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.”
TechZone360 Editor at Large
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