Live Blogging: Snowden @ SXSW

I’m listening in to Edward Snowden at SXSW; Follow along on Twitter on #AskSnowden, also watch @ACLU and @ACLUlive.

I’m watching live on the Texas Tribune website.

From ACLU:

In his first conversation in front of an audience since his disclosures began making global headlines last year, Edward Snowden will appear via live video next Monday at SXSW Interactive, the festival that brings together tens of thousands of technology professionals and enthusiasts every year in Austin. He’ll be talking to the ACLU’s Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian

Soghoian bio (from Wikipedia):

Christopher Soghoian is a Washington, DC based privacy researcher and activist. He first gained notoriety in 2006 as the creator of a website that generated fake airline boarding passes. Since that incident, he has continued to engage in high-profile activism related to privacy and computer security. He is currently the principal technologist and a senior policy analyst with the speech, privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Between 2009 and 2010, he worked for the US Federal Trade Commission as the first ever in-house technical advisor to the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.[1] While at the FTC, he assisted with investigations of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Netflix.

1:01 p.m. (EST):

Was it worth it?

Snowden responds:

“When I came public with this it wasn’t so I could single-handedly change the government tell them what to do.. What I wanted to do is inform the public so they could make a decision.”

Snowden makes the point that the government has never said any one of these stories has risked a human life.

“Every society in the world has benefited.”

Would he do it again?

“The answer is absolutely, ‘yes’.’

“I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and I saw the constitution was being violated on a massive scale.”

[Behind Snowden is Article 1 of the Constitution]

12:58 p.m. (EST):

Did contractors cause NSA surveillance?

Snowden responds:

If the NSA gets money, it’s going to spend it and they’re going to spend it on contractors. The problem with that is that contractors serve their clients’ interest, not the public interest.

“When the national interest talking about the states becomes decoupled from the public interest… we risk losing control of a representative democracy.”

12: 55 p.m. (EST):

Is it possible to reap the social benefits of big data, without opening ourselves up to surveillance?

Snowden responds:

“The bottom line is that data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent. If data is being clandestinely acquired” that’s wrong.

This should be part of a public debate.

[Snowden cuts out]

12: 49 p.m. (EST):

Isn’t just a matter of time until the government breaks all encryption?

Snowden responds:

The NSA has no idea of what documents were provided to the journalists what they have what they don’t have, because encryption works.

The only way to get around that is to get the keys. “If the key itself can’t be observed the” message “can’t be gotten.”

“There is no way in, there is no way around it.

“The U.S. government actually confirms that.”

Soghoian says:

Hacking technologies don’t scale. Encryption makes bulk surviellance too expensive. The goal here is to make it so that they can’t spy on innocent people because they can. Right now so many of our communication is just there for the taking.

“Encryption technology, even if imperfect,” raises the cost and makes bulk surviellance impossible.

12:47 p.m. (EST)

What can the average person do?

Snowden responds:

Full-disk encryption. Network encryption (SSL). You can install a couple of browser plugins, among other techniques; Snowden also plugs Tor.

Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.

“You’ll still be vulnerable to targeted surveillance.. They’re still going to get you. But mass surveillance” will be near-impossible.

Soghoian says:

“If you are getting the service for free, the company isn’t” providing you a service “with security in mind.”

You need to pay something so a company has a sustainable business model.

12:43 p.m. (EST):

Wizner cuts in with a question:

You come back to encryption again and again as something that still works? Should people still be confident that the basic encryption that we use protects us from surveillance, or at least mass surveillance?

Snowden responds:

“The grad students of today and tomorrow need to keep today’s threat model in mind in order to inform tomorrow.”

Soghoian says, again and again, that SILICON VALLEY IS PISSED. “The fact that these disclosures have so angered the encyption community” that, that bodes well for the future.

12:40 p.m. (EST):

Do you think the U.S. surviellance systems could encourage other countries to do the same?

Snowden responds:


“We’ve got the most to lose from being hacked at the same time every citizen in every country has something to lose. we are all at, at risk of unwarranted… surveillance in our private lives.”

“If we don’t resoolve these issues… every government will get the green light to do the same.”

Soghoian responds:

“If we want the rest of the world to keep trusting U.S.” companies, tech giants need to win back the trust of their users.

12:37 p.m. (EST):

Firmly in the Q&A forum…

Why is it less bad for big corporations to get access to our information, rather than the government?

Snowden responds:

“We don’t know” a good answer to that.

With companies, though, you have legal reviews, but you can’t challenge the government about these things (as the ACLU has) the government says you can’t even ask about this. “They are just going to do that anyway.”

12:31 p.m. (EST):

The creator of the internet. Tim Burners Lee gets the first question. He thanked Snowden. “He believes your actions are profoundly in the public interest.”

What would Snowden do to design an information agency that could correctly perform oversight on clandestine agencies?

“We have an oversight model that could work. But what happens is when the overseers aren’t interested in oversight.”

“The key fact is accountability. We can’t have officials.. that can lie to everyone in the country and face not even a criticism, not even a strongly worded letter.”

Snowden calls the FISA court a “secret, rubber-stamped court.” “A secret court shouldn’t be the Constitution when only NSA’s lawyer are allowed” to be a part of those conversations.

Snowden calls for public oversight. “We need a watchdog that watches Congress.”

“If we are not informed, we can’t” make good decisions.”

Wizner says his answer is Snowden. “Ed has been the broom.”

Soghoian responds:

“Without Ed’s disclosures, many of the tech companies would not have improved their security at all, or as quickly as they did.”

Says Snowden’s disclosures have improved internet security — despite how you feel about him — from not only the NSA but from stalkers, hackers and criminals. “We all have Ed to thank for this. Without him we would not have Yahoo users getting SSL…. It shouldn’t have taken that.”

12:27 p.m. (EST):

Snowden says that the resources that go into bulk collection would be better used on targeted efforts.

Soghoian responds:

Says that in an NSA building there is a record of everyone who has called a gay book store, an adult hotline, or an HIV clinic. The government says that it isn’t using it in a devious way. “You may not like the person who is going to sit in the (Oval Office) in a few years, who may have access to that information today.”

12: 20 p.m. (EST):

Wizner: General Micheal Hayden says Snowden Disclosures have made a less safe internet.

Snowden response:

“More than anything there have been two officials that have harmed our internet security and our national security because so much of our companies economic success is ” based on encryption.

Micheal Hayden and Keith Alexander “in the post-9/11 error… They elevated offensive operations that is attacking over the defense of our communications. They began eroding the protection of our communications in order to get an advantage.”

American has more to lose than anyone else when every attack exceeds. Snowden says it makes no sense (chuckles). Encryption is “improving our national security. We rely on our [shared] standards… Without that our economy cannot succeed.”

12:15 p.m. (EST):

Snowden says there is a need for more usable tools.

“If you have to go to the command line, people aren’t going to use it.”

Soghoian: “Most regular people aren’t going to go out and download an encyption app. A lot of our work goes into [lobbying large companies].”

“We need services to be built in.”

“This can be made easy to use…. [But] you need to make this easy to use for the average person.”

It’s harder for incumbents, Google and Yahoo, to deliver encrypted services because advertising is built into their services.

Snowden responds:

Large companies should collect information but not hold that information indefinitely. “These things need to age off.”

You can run your business, “without putting users at great risk.”

12:08 p.m. (EST):

Snowden talking about making mass surveillance more expensive. Says encryption is key. Talks about two methods of encryption. Of which end-t0-end encryption is the most expensive — forces attackers to go for the endpoints.

“The result of that is a more constitutional a more carefully overseen intelligence model. Where if they want to gather someone’s communications they have to target them specifically.”

The NSA can’t break into every computer in the world.

The practice Conflicts with Google’s and others’ business model. Those companies want to sit between you and everyone you do business with — “they want to be in that connection with you and that makes it difficult”.

Irony: ACLU is using Google Hangouts to talk to Snowden.

“The tools that exist to enable secure end to end encryption are not very polished.”

Today’s tools are made by geeks, for geeks. Most people use insecure tools because they’re the easiest to use tools. Glenn Greenwald, for instance, found it hard to figure out PGP.

12:05 p.m. (EST):

Snowden says the development community can craft solutions to make sure we’re safe.

“The people that are in the room in Austin right now they are the folks that can really fix things that can force our rights through technical standard even when congress hasn’t gotten to [that] place.”

The NSA “is setting fire to the future of the internet. And the people that are in this room now are all the firefighters.”

Chris of @ACLU:

Says many of the communication services aren’t as secure as they could be. This has enabled global passive surveillance by the U.S. and other governments.

“The real technical problems that the NSA has is not can we get the data… The collection problem isn’t a bottleneck for the government, because so many of the services that we’re relying on aren’t secured.’

“We need to lock things down.”

12: 00 p.m. (EST):

Snowden appears on screen with “his very special green screen.” Snowden is appearing through seven different proxies in order to remain anonymous

Member of Congress wrote to the organizers of SXSW discouraging them from bringing on Mr. Snowden.


One thought on “Live Blogging: Snowden @ SXSW

  1. Pingback: Snowden: The NSA is ‘Setting Fire’ to the Internet | Sean Sposito

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