Snowden Speaks to the Harms of Mass Data Collection
BY Laura Montini
During a live online chat, whistleblower Edward Snowden took questions about the balance between privacy and security.
What's the future of mass data collection? Edward Snowden, the man who leaked numerous classified government documents to journalists last year, said today it's not pretty.
Snowden, who's now living in Russia under temporary asylum, fielded thousands of questions from Twitter users Thursday afternoon during an online Q&A session.
The session was hosted by The Courage Foundation, a UK-based trust that provides legal defense for journalists. Participants tweeted in their questions using the #AskSnowden hashtag, and over the course of two hours Snowden responded via text to about a dozen questions.
It's been seven months since Snowden disclosed thousands of documents to the Guardian and the publication consequently revealed a detailed picture of how the NSA goes about collecting intelligence. Since then politicians, businesses, and civilians have been engaged in a nonstop discussion about government surveillance policies.
Many business owners were particularly disturbed to learn that the NSA had reportedly managed to break into the main communications links to Yahoo and Google data centers.
Though Snowden didn't respond to any questions regarding technology companies' involvement with government surveillance, he expressed his concerns with bulk data collection in general.
First there is the chilling effect it has on behavior; we act differently when we know we're being watch, he said.
"The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create 'permanent records' of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part," Snowden wrote.
"This enables a capability called 'retroactive investigation,' where once you come to the government's attention, they've got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does."
Many wanted to know if the NSA discussion had played out the way Snowden had hoped. Snowden didn't address that question directly either, but he did state that he felt he did the right thing and he had no regrets.
LAURA MONTINI is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco. @lmmontini