The 30-year-old National Security Agency contractor that leaked top secret documents about extensive cyber-surveillance programs is the runner-up to Pope Francis for Time Magazine’s person of the year.
Now in exile in Moscow to avoid prosecution by U.S. authorities, Time recounts an October visit Snowden held with four other dissidents from U.S. national security agencies and his lawyer. The story reveals to what extent Snowden is maintaining secrecy, only accepting his guests, not allowed to carry cell phones, after an unmarked van picked them up from the airport and drove them through a maze of streets to be deposited at an unmarked building. Snowden only uses the Internet behind an elaborate wall of encryption technology and anonymizing tools.
Snowden again describes his motivations for leaking the documents that revealed the PRISM surveillance program, among other secret operations conducted by the U.S. government and some related Canadian government operations as well:
“There is a far cry between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement—where it is targeted, it’s based on reasonable suspicion, individualized suspicion and warranted action—and the sort of dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under a sort of an eye and sees everything, even when it is not needed,” Snowden told his colleagues. “This is about a trend in the relationship between the governing and governed in America.”
As part of its spying efforts, the NSA tapped into public cloud computing services such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. It collected metadata such as contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts. Those revelations have rocked the business world, with major tech brands just yesterday announcing a new coalition that takes a position against mass surveillance efforts. Businesses in Canada have also said they are now more wary of storing data in the U.S. as a result of learning of the surveillance programs. At the same time, Canadian cloud providers and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority are doubling down on efforts to build an Internet backbone that will allow Canadian data to stay on Canadian soil, avoiding U.S. jurisdiction.
Time’s story includes an e-mail exchange with Snowden, in which he describes personal privacy as under threat. He hopes his actions will spur society to reconsider the path toward secret surveillance, and instead towards one that would develop new technical standards to make such an activity impossible for anyone.
In this video, Time author Michael Scherer describes the impact of Snowden’s leaks, including those on major tech brands: