Loss of User Privacy Undermines Internet as a ‘Commons’: Snowden

  • Former U.S. intelligence contractor addresses Berlin seminar
  • Citizens ‘losing seat’ at table of govenment, Snowden said

Collection of citizens’ data online by governments in the U.S. and elsewhere to counter terrorist threats is undermining the internet as a "commons for communications and trade," former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said at a technology conference in Berlin. 

"Increasingly we’re losing our seat at the table of government," he said. "These programs were never truly about terrorism, at least not solely. They were about power."

In addition to online surveillance in countries including China, Russia and Iran, Snowden named U.S. allies including the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada as participating in data collection in ways he doesn’t think are legitimate uses of espionage, citing an example of those countries cooperating to surveil U.S. law firms negotiating on the prices of clove cigarettes and shrimp.

Snowden spoke from Moscow where he has sought asylum amid theft and espionage charges from American authorities. His 2013 revelations about government internet monitoring and data collection sparked a public debate and compelled many technology companies to strengthen data protections.

U.S. tech companies including Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Yahoo Inc. have been strengthening encryption in their products, many of which focus on private messaging, ever since.

"We need to start thinking about human rights and how we encode them into our systems," he said. "Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google -- all of these companies, through incentive or threat -- went beyond what the law required."

"I’m not an anarchist; I don’t want anyone to mistake me for one," said Snowden at the conference hosted by BlueYard Capital, an investor in early-stage technology startups. The theme of the conference was building a more encrypted and decentralized internet and featured talks by startups and investors betting on a secure ledger technology called blockchain.

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