Last week, Edward Snowden made a surprise virtual visit to TED 2014 in Vancouver, Canada to talk about Internet freedom, the NSA’s surveillance programs, and individuals’ right to privacy. The former NSA contractor made his appearance via video link from an unknown location in Russia where he is currently living under temporary asylum. TED’s curator, Chris Anderson, accompanied the whistleblower’s moveable robot on stage and provided interview questions.
In his talk, Snowden discussed and explained numerous of the secret NSA programs that have been brought to light since he first revealed the agency’s role in forcing Verizon to hand over customer information last June in The Guardian. Among the programs discussed were PRISM, Boundless Informant, and Bullrun. In addition to talking about the programs themselves, Snowden gave recommendations that companies begin using SSL and other technologies to encrypt their data to help protect users from government surveillance.
When asked about why Americans should care that such surveillance is being conducted on them, Snowden explained how it diminishes individuals’ right to privacy, goes against Western values, and gives too much power to the government. He states that Americans “recognize that trusting anybody, any government authority, with the entirety of human communications in secret and without oversight is simply too great a temptation to be ignored.”
The temptation that Snowden has exposed is not being ignored. Upon hearing about an NSA program aimed at infecting machines visiting Facebook with malware, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a public statement denouncing the government’s actions, saying it was a threat to the Internet. Politicians across both aisles are coming out against government surveillance. Last week Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) received cheers from his audience at University of California – Berkeley when he denounced the excessive surveillance the United States government has conducted upon its citizens. Similarly, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has raised concerns on the floor of the Senate about the CIA illegally spying on Senators.
The White House is also throwing its support behind curtailing the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records and metadata. Reuters reported on Tuesday that President Obama has put forth a plan to restrict the amount of data collected as well as revise policies about whom may access such data. The public backlash from the NSA’s programs will make government surveillance a hot issue for both voters and candidates during the next election.