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Snowden says ‘properly implemented encryption’ of data works

January 24, 2014, 1:01 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Former NSA contractor hosted a live Q&A session online
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MOSCOW, January 24. /ITAR-TASS/. Encryption of electronic messages does have sense but people should care for the security of endpoints, believes the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who appeared Friday in a chat on website.

“As I’ve said before, properly implemented strong encryption works,” he said. “What you have to worry about are the endpoints.”

“If someone can steal your keys (or the pre-encryption plaintext), no amount of cryptography will protect you,” the expert said

“However, that doesn’t mean end-to-end crypto is a lost cause,” he said. “By combining robust endpoint security with transport security, people can have much greater confidence in their day to day communications.

Recovery after the scandal

It is possible for the United States to recover from damage the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying has done to the country’s liberties, Snowden said.

“What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws,” Snowden said replying to a relevant question.

“We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs,” he said.

Whistleblower laws

US laws designed to protect whistleblowers do not cover American national security contractors, the NSA contractor said.

“One of the things that has not been widely reported by journalists is that whistleblower protection laws in the US do not protect contractors in the national security arena,” 30-year-old Snowden said.

“There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing,” he said.

“If I had revealed what I knew about these unconstitutional but classified programs to Congress, they could have charged me with a felony. One only needs to look at the case of Thomas Drake to see how the government doesn’t have a good history of handling legitimate reports of wrongdoing within the system,” Snowden said.

Drake is a former NSA senior executive and whistleblower, who tried to reveal drawbacks in the agency’s work but achieved nothing, was put on trial but only received a one-year suspended sentence due to a media campaign in his support. Snowden is believed to have been guided by his example.

“Despite this, and despite the fact that I could not legally go to the official channels that direct NSA employees have available to them, I still made tremendous efforts to report these programs to co-workers, supervisors, and anyone with the proper clearance who would listen,” Snowden said.

“The reactions of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families, and possibly even freedom to go to through what Drake did,” he said.

“My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistleblower protection act reform,” the US intelligence leaker said.

“If we had had a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the President [Barack Obama] seems to agree needed to be done,” he said.

Return conditions

“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law, did not cover national security contractors like myself,” Snowden said answering a question on the conditions, under which he could agree to return to the U.S.

He pointed out “the hundred-years-old law under which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense.”

“This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury,” Snowden said.

“Maybe when Congress comes together to end the programs the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board just announced was illegal, they’ll reform the Whistleblower Protection Act, and we’ll see a mechanism for all Americans, no matter who they work for, to get a fair trial,” he said.

When asked whether or not he was afraid for his like in the wake of threats made against him by some members of the U.S. intelligence community Snowden wrote he was concerned by the issue “but primarily for reasons you might not expect.”

“That current, serving officials of our government are so comfortable in their authorities that they’re willing to tell reporters on the record that they think the due process protections of the 5th Amendment of our Constitution are outdated concepts,” he went on.

“These are the same officials telling us to trust that they’ll honor the 4th and 1st Amendments. This should bother all of us.”

In spite of the explicit threats to his life which he was aware of Snowden said he was not going to be intimidated. “Doing the right thing means having no regrets,” he said.

"I never stole any passwords"

US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden said during a live online question-and-answer session that he had not stolen any passwords.

“With all due respect…, the Reuters report that put this out there was simply wrong. I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers,” Snowden said..

A user asked Snowden what the appropriate extent of US national security apparatus is, in his opinion, assuming that “surely some spying is needed.”

“Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day,” the US whistleblower said.

“This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap,” he said.

“I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record,” Snowden said.

“Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back,” he said. “This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it.”

Should Snowden step on US soil one day, he faces ten years in prison on three charges: divulging national defense-related data, deliberately transferring intelligence data to people not authorized to obtain them and stealing US government property.


The live online Q&A session is Snowden’s first since June 2013. It started shortly after 8 p.m. GMT and is about to last one hour. Questions can be submitted via the Twitter microblogging website with the hashtag #AskSnowden. The answers are available on the website. 

The online chat organizers say the session is held a week after US President Barack Obama’s address in which he reacted to the public’s concerns over Snowden’s revelations on the methods US special services use in their work.

The online session was also actively promoted by the Wikileaks whistleblowing website.

The United States accuses Edward Snowden, 30, of leaking information on the NSA’s secret surveillance programs to media. Despite US extradition requests, he was granted a one-year temporary asylum in Russia in August 2013 after spending more than a month in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow. He has reportedly found a website maintenance job and resides at an undisclosed location in Russia.

The US authorities say Snowden violated two clauses of a 1917 law on espionage by divulging some secret data related to national defense and by deliberately transferring US intelligence data to individuals not authorized to obtain such data. Snowden is also charged with stealing US government property.

Should he turn up on American soil one day, he faces ten years in prison on each charge.

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