National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden took a swing at his former employers Monday while speaking at the South by Southwest interactive, music and film conference in Austin, Texas.
“I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale,” Snowden told a crowd of about 3,000 from giant screens in the Austin Convention Center. “We need public oversight … some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we’re not informed, we can’t consent to these policies.”
The live video broadcast from Russia marks the first time Snowden has directly addressed the American public since leaking a trove of classified documents last year detailing secret, highly-invasive bulk surveillance programs conducted by the NSA, and fled the country.
“Would I do it again? Absolutely,” Snowden said, while stating he had no regrets. “Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to.”
During the panel discussion about digital privacy he was invited to participate in by conference organizers, Snowden went on to advocate the need for online communication encryption methods to be made available to the general public for privacy security.
“The way we interact with [encrypted email and communications] is not good,” Snowden said. “It needs to be out there, it needs to happen automatically, it needs to happen seamlessly.”
The former agency contractor added that if the average user has to “go three menus deep” to enable encryption, “they’re not going to use it.”
Moderator and American Civil Liberties Union principal technologist Christopher Soghoian added that companies like Google and Facebook — which are among the most widely used by average Internet users to communicate online — should take steps to ensure users’ privacy, like automatically enabling HTTPS encrypting when users communicate.
“We need services to be building security in by default,” Soghoian said. “What I want is for the next WhatsApp or the next Twitter to be using encrypted end-to-end communications.”
Snowden also criticized U.S. intelligence agencies for putting such a high priority on aggressive attack programs as opposed to defensive measures, and said that current practices endanger the cyber security of the world as a whole.
“America has more to lose than anyone else when every attack succeeds,” Snowden said. “When you are the one country that has sort of a vault that’s more full than anyone else’s, it makes no sense to be attacking all day.”
Snowden still faces felony espionage and government property theft charges, and has stated he will not return to the U.S. until current whistleblower protection laws are changed.