SXSW: That’s All Folks!

Snowden spoke at SXSW and all I got was this lousy…

Edward Snowden: Live today from underneath Putin’s wing! Edward spoke at the prestigious South by Southwest Interactive conference at noon ET via a webcast from his safe house in Moscow. Somehow, the ACLU and SXSW coordinators got access to the whistle-blower through Vladimir’s gatekeepers. (Does the ACLU have a special phone line to the Kremlin?!)

Chaperoning Snowden Chairing the event was Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project and Edward Snowden’s legal advisor; also talking is Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist.

You can catch an audio of Snowden’s talk here: be prepared for a lot of distortion– distortion from being bounced off seven proxies, or just poorly set up AV? You decide!

It doesn’t really matter that we can’t hear Snowden, I guess, because Christopher and Ben tell us how to interpret what Snowden says and what the answers to important questions are. If I remember correctly, the ACLU also sent a chaperone to Bill Binney’s talk at MIT in Dec 2012, months before Snowden’s leaks broke.

The thrust of Christopher’s argument is that the government should step in to help keep us safe from government spying. Oh yeah, and Christopher has taken a page out of Jacob Appelbaum’s NSA playbook: the big tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo) have improved their security and the government is becoming more accountable. Now that these NSA-complicit mega tech firms are encrypting everything, “we’re at a secure place now,” according to Christopher.  God help us all.

Ed’s talking about the need for conversation on government spying; the ACLU’ers are talking about how it’s so great that we’re all safe now.

See the problem?

Snowden took questions from Twitter; these questions were pre-screened by an undisclosed group of people ‘in the back’. Questions from important people like Tim Berners-Lee got precedence. (If the US military and Tim both invented the internet, what does that mean about Tim?)

What does Snowden say himself? It’s very hard to tell. He appears to say that “the encryption algorithms used today work”, with provisos that are too unclear to hear in the audio I could find. Christopher says that the “security community”– the people paid by Google and other NSA partner companies– will fix compromised cryptography programs in the future. So don’t worry about it, Joe Voter.

Snowden appears to say that “attacking Tor by itself is incredibly hard,” but “if the NSA is after you they’re still going to get you”. Christopher seemed to agree with Ed’s opinion, when asked the following:

When there is a question about protecting regular people, and the answer is Tor?

“We’ve failed,” the panelists [Christopher and Edward] say.

‘The panelists” opinion shows tweets like the following from The Wall Street Journal’sWilson Rothman to be pure misinformation.

Snowden’s own leaks show Tor to be vulnerable; the only responsible thing to do would be to advise people not to use The Onion Router. Snowden doesn’t appear to do this.

The other key point that the ACLU wants to drive home is that encryption, while imperfect, makes dragnet surveillance too expensive. It appears that the encryption the ALCU is talking about is encrypting data as it’s delivered over the web.

When Bill Binney talked about encryption in Dec 2012, he called it a red flag for the NSA: they think you’re worth watching if you use encryption to send information. It’s putting a target on your back. That aside, encryption is only good if you decrypt the information on a computer that doesn’t have contact with the internet, from which back doors in other unrelated programs could be accessed and used to harvest your data. Snowden doesn’t appear to address this problem either; which is irresponsible.

The show’s over folks, because Snowden’s NSA KGB now. I don’t think he can be trusted because of the compromised position Putin and Obama have put him in. He wasn’t given a free microphone in this interview, because what he says is so distorted that we must rely on his ACLU handlers for ‘interpretation’. Don’t forget to pick up your ACLU whistle on the way out.

P.S. I will be looking for transcripts of this talk and will update this post as I find out more. In the meantime, if you’re interested in keeping your data secure, I think your time is better spent thinking along the lines of Poul-Henning Kamp.

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