Snowden, NSA ‘Ted Talk’ Showdown: Security vs Privacy

Source: Bret Hartman via Flickr

Source: Bret Hartman via Flickr

Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor, appeared in a March Ted Talk to discuss “how we take back the internet.” Speaking to the audience remotely, he discussed his decision to turn documents over to the press, and related some of what the documents were showing and what they meant. This includes the bulk metadata collection, and the demands on major technology companies to cooperate on data collection, including Google, Yahoo, and the like. He explained that while some went to court over the demands, the trial was a secret one, and lacked the chance an open public trial might have. One document, he says, “Tells us [that] more communications are being intercepted in America about Americans than there are in Russia about Russians.” He accused the chair of the intelligence committee of lack of oversight, and talked about the Washington Post article on thousands of violations from the NSA of privacy rules.

“This is not a left or right issue … Our basic freedoms — and when I say our, I don’t just mean Americans, I mean people around the world. It’s not a partisan issues. These are things that all people believe and it’s up to all of us to protect that. And for people who have seen and enjoyed a free and open internet, it’s up to use to preserve that liberty for the next generation to enjoy,” said Snowden. “We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t have to give up our liberty to have security.” At the time, Chris Anderson, curator of the talks, said that, “If the NSA wants to respond, please do.”

Apparently, they did. Richard Ledgett, the NSA deputy director, spoke as a Ted guest this month as well, video conferencing in to address many of the same issues. He spoke on other options that Snowden could have taken to address his concerns within classified channels, and said that he feels Snowden being labeled as a whistle blower hurts others who actually deserve the status. The claim made by the press and Snowden that no one was put at risk, he says, and that national security was not harmed were “categorically not true.” He explained that the release of information alerted adversaries such as drug traffickers, human traffickers, and others to vulnerabilities they might otherwise have not been privy to, and those American agents working against them, and our allies are put at greater risk.

“I think that People have legitimate concerns about the balance between transparency and secrecy … There are things that we need to be transparent about: our authorities, our processes, our oversights, who we are. We NSA have not done a good job of that,” admitted Ledgett. “We need to be more transparent about those things,” he said, but “it’s bad to expose operations and capabilities in a way that” hinders the efforts against national enemies, against “generally recognized bad guys.”

When asked about forced compliance from big tech companies, he said the issue was a difficult one. “The companies are in a tough position, as are we. The companies — we compel them to provide information, just like very other nation in the world does,” he said, going on to explain that the practice is commonplace internationally. He also discussed citizens rights to privacy, explaining minimization procedures that protect the accidental unnecessary surveillance of normal civilians, and referenced Obama’s increase in privacy requirements.

When asked about possible amnesty, Ledgett said that, “There is a strong tradition in American jurisprudence of having discussion with people who have been charged with crimes. If it benefits the government to get something out of that … there’s always room for that kind of discussion, not predisposing any outcome, there is always room for discussion.”

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