Should We Be Thanking Edward Snowden?

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Edward Snowden, the notorious former National Security Agency contractor who released large amounts of classified information about the government’s vast electronic surveillance apparatus, spoke at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival last week.

Fleeing the U.S. after leaking details about the NSA’s spying programs, Snowden has been granted asylum in Russia, where he currently lives. He has stated that he has no plans to ever return to the U.S., where he faces felony charges of espionage and theft of government property.

But what if Snowden’s actions were a good thing for our security? What if we shouldn’t be condemning him, but instead offering him a “thank you.” 

Is Snowden The Good Guy?

One of the major themes of the Snowden’s SXSW event was how his actions have impacted the security community and privacy awareness. Speaking by teleconference with Christopher Soghoian of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, Snowden was firm that he has no regrets about his action; he also called for more public oversight of US spy programs.  

Asked  by audience member whether or not he would do it again, Snowden responded, “Absolutely yes. I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution and I saw the Constitution … being violated on a massive scale.”

At another point during the Q&A session, Snowden once again defended his actions, “When [the NSA] says these things have weakened national security, no, these are improving our national security… We rely on the ability to trust our communications. Without that we don’t have anything. Our economy cannot succeed.”

Snowden’s sentiments were echoed by Soghoian who explained that even though there are many who consider Snowden’s actions to be wrong, “his disclosures have improved internet security.”

And, according to Soghoian, these advances don’t just include better awareness and protections against government surveillance. “They have protected us from hackers at Starbucks who are monitoring our WiFi connections… from stalkers and identity thieves and common criminals,” he said.

Additionally, Soghoian mentioned that various companies weren’t taking proper encryption precautions before Snowden. But after Snowden’s revelations, “companies like Google and Microsoft and Facebook rush[ed] to encrypt their data center to data center [connections]… companies like Yahoo finally turning on SSL encryption, Apple fixed a bug in its address book app that allowed Google users’ address books to be transmitted over networks in unencrypted form…”

Soghoian makes the point that the tides are turning when it comes to privacy and security awareness because of Snowden. He stated, “It really took…the largest and most profound whistle blower in history to get us to the point where these companies are finally prioritizing the security of their users’ communications between them and the companies, but we all have Ed to thank for us…There should have been regulation or privacy regulators who are forcing companies to do this, but that isn’t taking place. It took Ed to get us to a secure place.”

What Do You Think?

We are interested in hearing your take on this topic. Do you think that Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for leaking state secrets, or do you think he what he did is ultimately a good thing, as it has led to increased security in online products and led to more stringent oversight for government intelligence operations?

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.