Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose unprecedented leak of top-secret documents led to a worldwide debate about the nature of surveillance, insisted on Monday that his actions had improved the national security of the United States rather than undermined it, and declared that he would do it all again despite the personal sacrifices it caused him.
In remarks to the South by Southwest (SXSW) culture and technology conference in Texas, delivered by video link from his exile in Russia, Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, took issue with claims by senior officials that he had placed the U.S. in danger.
He also rejected as demonstrably false the suggestions by some members of Congress that his files had found their way into the hands of the intelligence agencies of China or Russia. Mr. Snowden spoke against the backdrop of an image of the U.S. Constitution, which he said he had taken an oath to protect but had seen “violated on a mass scale” while working for the U.S. government. He struck back against claims made again last week by the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, that his release of secret documents to The Guardian and other outlets last year had weakened American cyber-defences.
“These things are improving national security, these are improving the communications not just of Americans, but everyone in the world,” Mr. Snowden said. He added later that thanks to the more secure communication activity that had been encouraged by his disclosures, “the public has benefited, the government has benefited, and every society in the world has benefited.”
He claimed that by spending so much effort on harvesting communications data en masse , U.S. security agencies were failing to pick up would-be terrorists such as Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who had been previously flagged to the U.S. as a cause for concern by Russian authorities.
“If we hadn’t spent so much on mass surveillance, if we had followed traditional patterns, we might have caught him,” he said. He encouraged ordinary internet users to protect themselves against surveillance by encrypting both their hard drives and their online activity. He also advised people to browse the web anonymously using the Tor system. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014