SXSW: Snowden Talks Digital Privacy, Pushes Better Encryption

Former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden addressed the crowd at SXSW in Austin, Texas yesterday via videoconference from Moscow. Speaking on NSA leaks and data security, Snowden urged tech firms to adopt better encryption methods to help protect users from government surveillance. He also shared privacy tips for citizens, such as encrypting your hard drive, implementing browser plug-ins that prevent online tracking, and using online network Tor, that promises anonymity.

With a full-screen image of the U.S. Constitution in the background, Snowden suggested that “technology companies can act more quickly to protect users’ privacy than the U.S. government, which will move slowly, if at all, to change intelligence-gathering practices,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

“Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance prompted Google Inc. and other companies to strengthen their encryption technology, but he said the firms haven’t done enough to protect the civil liberties of Internet users in the U.S. and abroad,” notes the article.

Snowden and interviewer Chris Soghoian, an ACLU lawyer, suggested Internet companies should adopt “end-to-end encryption” to better scramble communication tools such as email. They also criticized the model of collecting user data for advertising purposes and pushed the use of subscriptions as a safer alternative.

In a separate article, WSJ offers detailed suggestions and links to helpful tools for implementing Snowden’s three tips for digital privacy. Here are some highlights:

  • Encrypt your hard drive — Adding password protection to files on your computer is just the first step to personal file security. Encrypting the entire hard disk on your computer ensures personal information is secure, even if your device is stolen or seized.
  • Use browser plug-ins to avoid being tracked onlineGoogle’s Chrome browser has a setting that most users can turn on to send a do-not-track request, and so does Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10. They won’t work with all websites, but it’s a good place to begin.
  • Cover your tracks with Tor — Tor may be useful for criminals, but its cloak of anonymity is increasingly a comfort to anyone looking for privacy. Tor offers its own browser that can be used to connect to news sites or instant messaging services and chat rooms that can’t be easily tracked online.