Edward Snowden has warned that unless we challenge the current global surveillance status quo, our future will be a world of mass surveillance where not only every country will have access to all our digital communications, but companies and criminals too.
Speaking today to attendees of the UK-based FutureFest via a stream from Moscow, the NSA whistleblower expressed for a strong need for a change in governmental surveillance if we are to avoid a scenario where total surveillance is the norm.
“If we go along with the status quo, we are going towards a mass surveillance world,” Snowden warned, adding that surveillance would be the norm for every country, no matter how small, as well as “companies and also criminals”.
In the discussion, which saw Snowden asked questions by fashion designer and activist Dame Vivienne Westwood, academic Luciano Floridi and Glasgow students union president Breffni O’Connor, he proposed that the solution was a change in the structure of communications.
This would ensure better encryption and make the mass collection of data considerably harder.
“We can restructure that communications fabric in a way that is encrypted, and what we are doing there is making it much more difficult to perform mass surveillance,” he said. “I think that’s the most realistic thing to do.”
As part of this, he also called for greater individual control over the data we send online, advocating the ability to set clear controls in advance of sharing data about who will be able to read it.
“We decentralise the permissions of use of our communications, we decentralise the ability to decide the level of publicity attached to our communications,” he recommended.
Snowden also called for a clear and open debate on the subject of mass surveillance, decrying the terrorism-prevention argument for surveillance as being without proof.
Discussing the NSA’s surveillance practices, he said: “Despite interception of the calls of everyone in the country, it has never stopped a single terrorist attack.
“These programs are not public safety programs, they’re spying programs.”
He conceded that such mass collection of data did provide an advantage for spying operations, but said this needed to be weighed up against the invasion of people’s privacy.
“We have to have that debate honestly, we cannot simply scare people into giving up their rights,” he added.