Last week Ed Snowden appeared at the TED 2014 conference via telepresence robot. Of the 2046 registered TED members who have rated that talk so far most of the votes were that the presentation was “courageous” and “informative”.
I would encourage everyone who is interested in the balance between individual privacy and security intelligence ( oxymoron alert right there) to watch this video and the follow up by the NSA spokesperson (Richard Ledgett) which came a couple of days later.
Here is a snippet of the transcript where Edward (ES) is talking about the PRISM programme.
“ES: The best way to understand PRISM, because there’s been a little bit of controversy, is to first talk about what PRISM isn’t. Much of the debate in the U.S. has been about metadata. They’ve said it’s just metadata, it’s just metadata, and they’re talking about a specific legal authority called Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
That allows sort of a warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance of the entire country’s phone records, things like that — who you’re talking to, when you’re talking to them, where you traveled. These are all metadata events.
PRISM is about content. It’s a program through which the government could compel corporate America, it could deputize corporate America to do its dirty work for the NSA. And even though some of these companies did resist, even though some of them — I believe Yahoo was one of them — challenged them in court, they all lost, because it was never tried by an open court.
They were only tried by a secret court. And something that we’ve seen, something about the PRISM program that’s very concerning to me is, there’s been a talking point in the U.S. government where they’ve said 15 federal judges have reviewed these programs and found them to be lawful, but what they don’t tell you is those are secret judges in a secret court based on secret interpretations of law that’s considered 34,000 warrant requests over 33 years, and in 33 years only rejected 11 government requests.
These aren’t the people that we want deciding what the role of corporate America in a free and open Internet should be.”
Further into the conversation Ed notes the the difference between public interest and national interest and that there are many more revelations to come. (CA) stands for Chris Anderson who was asking the questions.
ES: “The public interest is not always the same as the national interest. Going to war with people who are not our enemy in places that are not a threat doesn’t make us safe, and that applies whether it’s in Iraq or on the Internet. The Internet is not the enemy. Our economy is not the enemy. American businesses, Chinese businesses, and any other company out there is a part of our society. It’s a part of our interconnected world. There are ties of fraternity that bond us together, and if we destroy these bonds by undermining the standards, the security, the manner of behavior, that nations and citizens all around the world expect us to abide by.
CA: But it’s alleged that you’ve stolen 1.7 million documents. It seems only a few hundred of them have been shared with journalists so far. Are there more revelations to come?
ES: There are absolutely more revelations to come. I don’t think there’s any question that some of the most important reporting to be done is yet to come.”
Here is the clip.
“CA: Sorry. Do you think there’s a deeper motivation for them other than the war against terrorism?
ES: Yeah. The bottom line is that terrorism has always been what we in the intelligence world would call a cover for action. Terrorism is something that provokes an emotional response that allows people to rationalize authorizing powers and programs that they wouldn’t give otherwise. The Bullrun and Edgehill-type programs, the NSA asked for these authorities back in the 1990s. They asked the FBI to go to Congress and make the case.
The FBI went to Congress and did make the case. But Congress and the American people said no. They said, it’s not worth the risk to our economy. They said it’s worth too much damage to our society to justify the gains.
But what we saw is, in the post-9/11 era, they used secrecy and they used the justification of terrorism to start these programs in secret without asking Congress, without asking the American people, and it’s that kind of government behind closed doors that we need to guard ourselves against, because it makes us less safe, and it offers no value.”
Tim Berners Lee was on stage for a couple of questions at one point.
“CA: And Ed, I think you’ve read the proposal that Sir Tim has talked about about a new Magna Carta to take back the Internet. Is that something that makes sense?
ES: Absolutely. I mean, my generation, I grew up not just thinking about the Internet, but I grew up in the Internet, and although I never expected to have the chance to defend it in such a direct and practical manner and to embody it in this unusual, almost avatar manner, I think there’s something poetic about the fact that one of the sons of the Internet has actually become close to the Internet as a result of their political expression.
And I believe that a Magna Carta for the Internet is exactly what we need. We need to encode our values not just in writing but in the structure of the Internet, and it’s something that I hope, I invite everyone in the audience, not just here in Vancouver but around the world, to join and participate in.”
Feel free to join the debate over on the main TED site – Edward Snowden
The talk about a magna carta for the internet is a clear marker for the divide between concerned internet users and those in the “intelligence community”. We see the debate in terms of privacy and the protection of hard won freedoms of speech and thought and yet the NSA claims the same interests prevent them from doing that.
For New Zealanders the claims by Ed that the NSA is proactive to weaken legal protections and encryption technologies globally is one to watch. In this story just last week Snowden: US helped create loopholes in NZ law
“NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says the United States’ spy agency has helped find or create loopholes in New Zealand law to enable widespread spying.
In testimony to the European Parliament, the exiled former NSA worker said the agency’s Foreign Affairs Division put pressure on other countries to change laws to create legal gaps through which mass surveillance could be carried out.”
… and later in that article it says:
“In listing New Zealand among countries targeted, he said: “Each of these countries received instruction from the NSA, sometimes under the guise of the US Department of Defense and other bodies, on how to degrade the legal protections of their countries’ communications.”
Cyber rights group Tech Liberty’s spokesman Thomas Beagle said the new laws introduced in New Zealand last year appeared surprisingly quickly.
“It was like someone had it sitting in a drawer ready to go. Who is really writing these laws.”
He said the greater concern was the lack of oversight. “It’s never being able to test what they are doing what they say.”
It seems like the NZ government is being disingenuous in claiming NZ is acting independently when behind the scenes deliberate measures are being taken to undermine trust and faith in the very government it seeks to protect.
After TED managed to get Ed Snowden to present they also asked the NSA if they wanted to offer their view. That presenation was delivered via video conferencing and Richard Ledgett: The NSA responds to Edward Snowden’s TED Talk gave a somewhat defensive pitch on behalf of the NSA.
Crucially Ledgett agreed that a greater level of debate over the governance and activities was needed. He still strongly believed that Snowden should have used internal mechanisms at the NSA to raise his concerns but as Edward noted those avenues were not available to contractors.
Ledgett clearly has had some media training and none of the questions put to hime were disclosed in advance so he did well to present an alternative view of the various NSA programmes but in the end he wasn’t that convincing and in my view gave a more idealogical viewpoint than something that would help to rebuild trust and faith in the NSA processes and various oversight structures.