23 January 2014
Edward Snowden Q&A 14-0123
Live Q&A with Edward Snowden: Thursday 23rd January, 8pm GMT, 3pm EST
@mperkel #ASKSNOWDEN They say its a balance of privacy and safety.
I think spying makes us less safe. do you agree?
Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working
level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you.
Theyre good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you
from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.
The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials
authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like
the secret FISA court, a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of
government requests (which denied only 11 requests out of 33,900 in 33 years
Theyre the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting
us go too far.
And even the President now agrees our surveillance programs are going too
far, gathering massive amounts of private records on ordinary Americans who
have never been suspected of any crime. This violates our constitutional
protection against unlawful searches and seizure. Collecting phone and email
records for every American is a waste of money, time and human resources
that could be better spent pursuing those the government has reason to suspect
are a serious threat.
Im going to stop here. My deepest thanks to everyone who sent questions,
and whether or not we agree on where the lines should be drawn, I encourage
you to contact your members of congress and tell them how you feel about
mass surveillance. This is a global problem, and the first step to tackling
it is by working together to fix it at home.
If youd like to more ideas on how to push back against unconstitutional
surveillance, consider taking a look at the organizations working together
@mrbass21 Recently several threats have been made on your life by the
intelligence community. Are you afraid for your life? Thoughts? #AskSnowden
Its concerning, to me, but primarily for reasons you might not expect.
That current, serving officials of our government are so comfortable in their
authorities that theyre willing to tell reporters on the record that
they think the due process protections of the 5th Amendment of our Constitution
are outdated concepts. These are the same officials telling us to trust that
theyll honor the 4th and 1st Amendments. This should bother all of
The fact that its also a direct threat to my life is something I am
aware of, but Im not going to be intimidated. Doing the right thing
means having no regrets.
@ferenstein whats the worst and most realistic harm from bulk collection
of data? Why do you think it outweighs national security? #AskSnowden
The worst and happening-right-now harm of bulk collection which again,
is a euphemism for mass surveillance is two-fold.
The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study
has show that human behavior changes when we know were being watched.
Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less
The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified
programs, is that they effectively create permanent records of
our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part.
This enables a capability called retroactive investigation, where
once you come to the governments attention, theyve got a very
complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often
as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on
June 12th 2009, but the government does.
The power these records represent cant be overstated. In fact, researchers
have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in databases
of ruin, where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the
most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without
the government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying
the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable
of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently
as today by the federal governments Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight
Fundamentally, a society in which the pervasive monitoring of the sum of
civil activity becomes routine is turning from the traditions of liberty
toward what is an inherently illiberal infrastructure of preemptive
investigation, a sort of quantified state where the least of actions are
measured for propriety. I dont seek to pass judgment in favor or against
such a state in the short time I have here, only to declare that it is not
the one we inherited, and should we as a society embrace it, it should be
the result of public decision rather than closed conference.
@LukasReuter #AskSnowden How should the community of states react to the
new information concerning surveillance? What actions have to be made?
We need to work together to agree on a reasonable international norm for
the limitations on spying. Nobody should be hacking critical-to-life
infrastructure like hospitals and power stations, and its fair to say
that can be recognized in international law.
Additionally, we need to recognize that national laws are not going to solve
the problem of indiscriminate surveillance. A prohibition in Burundi isnt
going to stop the spies in Greenland. We need a global forum, and global
funding, committed to the development of security standards that enforce
our right to privacy not through law, but through science and technology.
The easiest way to ensure a countrys communications are secure is to
secure them world-wide, and that means better standards, better crypto, and
@wikileaks #AskSnowden The Ecuadorean Consul in London, Fidel Narvaez,
lost his job after his helping you to safety was spun. Message for his
Fidel is an incredibly brave individual, and he did everything that was possible
to ensure that the rights of someone he had never met would be protected.
He could have turned away from a tough decision, but instead of letting my
situation become someone elses problem, he did what he thought was
right. That kind of commitment to doing the right thing, even knowing it
could get you in trouble, is something the world needs more of.
@jaketapper #AskSnowden Under what conditions would you agree to return
to the U.S.?
Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government,
the public, and myself, but its unfortunately not possible in the face
of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law
did not cover national security contractors like myself.
The hundred-year old law under which Ive been charged, which was never
intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids
a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means
theres no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and
make my case to a jury.
Maybe when Congress comes together to end the programs the PCLOB just announced
was illegal, theyll reform the Whistleblower Protection Act, and
well see a mechanism for all Americans, no matter who they work for,
to get a fair trial.
@Valio_ch #asksnowden Do you think that the Watchdog Report by Privacy
& Civil Liberties Oversight Board will have any impact at all?
I dont see how Congress could ignore it, as it makes it clear there
is no reason at all to maintain the 215 program. Let me quote from the official
Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties
concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the
governments efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests
for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific
@RagBagUSA #AskSnowden what (in your opinion) is the appropriate extent
of US national security apparatus? Surely some spying is needed?
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 its 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.
I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an
SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what
its going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when
we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements
from Congress making it clear these programs havent made us any more
safe, we need to push back.
This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it.
If our government decides our Constitutions 4th Amendment prohibition
against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because thats
a more efficient means of snooping, were setting a precedent that immunizes
the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of
indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is
Its not good for our country, its not good for the world, and
I wasnt going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it
cost me. 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 weve always done it without
resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.
When were sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device
in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkels phone,
if reports are to be believed), theres no excuse to be wasting our
time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri.
@MichaelHargrov1 #AskSnowden Was the privacy of your co-workers considered
while you were stealing their log-in and password information?
With all due respect to Mark Hosenball, the Reuters report that put this
out there was simply wrong. I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick
an army of co-workers.
@auerfeld #AskSnowden do you think its a shame that #Obama gave
his #NSA speech before his Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
The timing of his speech seems particularly interesting, given that it was
accompanied by so many claims that these programs have not been
Even if we accept the NSAs incredibly narrow definition of abuse, which
is someone actually broke the rules so badly we had to investigate
them for it, weve 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 governments own numbers, according to the
NSA Inspector General, weve seen at least 12 specific, intentional
cases of abuse by the NSA.
In contrast, the federal governments independent PCLOB report on the
NSAs 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.
At the press conference, Judge Wald stated this program, which has been operated
in secret for years, has no basis in law. The panel determined this kind
of mass surveillance is illegal and should be ended.
When even the federal government says the NSA violated the constitution at
least 120 million times under a single program, but failed to discover even
a single plot, its time to end bulk collection,
which is a euphemism for mass surveillance. There is simply no justification
for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate.
In light of another independent confirmation of this fact, I think Americans
should look to the White House and Congress to close the book entirely on
the 215 BR provision.
@VilleThompson What do you think about Obamas whistleblowing protection
One of the things that has not been widely reported by journalists is that
whistleblower protection laws in the US do not protect contractors in the
national security arena. There are so many holes in the laws, the protections
they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are
so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of
even the clearest wrongdoing. If I had revealed what I knew about these
unconstitutional but classified programs to Congress, they could have charged
me with a felony. One only need to look at the case of Thomas Drake to see
how the government doesnt have a good history of handling legitimate
reports of wrongdoing within the system.
Despite this, and despite the fact that I could not legally go to the official
channels that direct NSA employees have available to them, I still made
tremendous efforts to report these programs to co-workers, supervisors, and
anyone with the proper clearance who would listen. The reactions of those
I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply
concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families,
and possibly even freedom to go to through what Drake did.
My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistleblower protection
act reform. If we had had a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing
could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials,
I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the
President seems to agree needed to be done.
@midwire How quickly can the NSA, et. al. decrypt AES messages with strong
keys #AskSnowden Does encrypting our emails even work?
As Ive said before, 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
However, that doesnt 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.
@savagejen Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from
the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties? #AskSnowden
Yes. 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.