A Snowden Reception
Edward Snowden, infamous for stealing and leaking data from the NSA, took part in his first public debate on Tuesday night, where he faced off against CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, who is also known as an author and his coverage of international news.
Zakaria was defending the government’s right of access to any of the devices and any messages as long as they had court approval. Speaking via a live video link from Moscow, where he is in exile, the NSA whistleblower Snowden was not agreeing, saying the security of the Internet was much more important than just the convenience of law enforcement. Century Foundation and New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service organized the debate.
Zakaria apparently started off firm in his convictions, but gradually admitted the complexity of what he was proposing. He was supporting that agencies were supposed to get all the information they needed as long as there was court approval. He said he personally did not encrypt any of his communications on the assumption that everything was fine, though Snowden said because of the smartphone brand he used (Apple iPhone) then his data and communications were encrypted by default.
The CNN anchor started off the debate with a hypothetical scenario: if Bank Of America creates an “iVault” which would allow all who wanted to store their data in their encrypted, criminals such as embezzlers would then take advantage of some things like that and hide their criminal activities. “I understand within a democracy, you have to sacrifice liberty for democracy at some point. You cannot have an absolute zone of privacy,” he said.
On his part Snowden agreed with what was being said. He also admitted that encryption was tricky and problematic for law enforcement agencies. But universal access is not the way to go, according to him. “For the government to unlock everything there has to be a key to everything. Every other person in the world can find that key and use it too,” he said. “It’s a fundamental problem of science.”
Rather police were should consider all options that are available, before jumping the gun and rushing straight into wanting to get backdoor access. He gave an example of the Silk Road investigation, where police officers managed to capture the perpetrator after he had logged in at a library and they were able to get to him.
“Encryption is not an unbreakable wall,” Snowden said. “Or if it is, it is one we can get around, if we are patient, if we are careful, if we think and plan how to go about our investigations.”
Zakaria, however said he was not in support with the bill that has been proposed by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, which forces tech companies into decrypting all communications if issued a court order. Tech savvy people are against the bill. Zakaria also explained that the courts were supposed to understand if tech firms could genuinely not decrypt the devices. Zakaria said if WhatsApp does not know how to decrypt the the code, then they have a right to protest saying we don’t have the skill set for this.
He concluded with encouraging companies and governments to solve the issue of what the government can and cannot intercept, before the next terrorist case arises.