Snowden tells CES crowd fighting encryption is the wrong fight

8 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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“I’ve read the emails of terrorists, I know what they’re doing, I know how they work”, Edward Snowden told a rapt audience in a CES booth yesterday. “Terrorists are already using encryption. Everybody in the world is using encryption”.

He was being interviewed by serial entrepreneur Peter Diamondus – X-Prize, Singularity and, yesterday, Human Longevity, Inc. – via a BeamPro telepresence robot made by Palo Alto-based Suitabletech. It was a promotionally convenient necessity since Snowden is a fugitive, living in exile in Russia after blowing the whistle on the National Security Agency’s massive data trawling operation.

Snowden has no regrets about what he did, saying “I volunteered to go to prison”. Still, he’s in no hurry to get there and believes that the law enforcement agencies chasing him are on the wrong track. “I don’t think it’s right to act as deterrent against people trying to do the right thing”, he said.

Restricting or weakening legal encryption technologies wouldn’t deter terrorists and criminals – they wouldn’t restrict themselves to legal means – and in any event they also use open communications techniques. French police were able to gather a tremendous amount of information about the recent Paris attacks from unencrypted data on mobile phones used by the killers, enough to track down the people who organised the mass murders, he said.

Giving law enforcement officials a back door to everyone’s private information is an even worse answer, he believes.

“They think they need to restrict our freedom to keep us safe”, Snowden said. But the only existential threat comes from measures we take against ourselves. It’s “the only way to lose an open society”.

“Are we ever going to correct our government?” he asked. “It’s not a fight, it’s an ongoing struggle, it’s a process”.