Edward Snowden warns in opposition to weakening encryption, it might have dire penalties: “Information safety is energy”

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks live from Russia during the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon on November 4, 2019.

Pedro Fiuza | NurPhoto | Getty Images

LONDON – Undermining encryption systems to give governments access to people’s personal messages would be a “colossal mistake” with fatal consequences, warned former US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Data protection is power”, said Snowden from Russia via video link at a press conference on Thursday for the first “Global Encryption Day”.

It comes as governments around the world put pressure on technology giants like Facebook and Apple to give government agencies access to encrypted messages. Several countries are calling for so-called “back doors” that allow them to bypass encryption.

The US, European Union, Australia, Russia and China are among the jurisdictions “trying to devise means and methods to require weak encryption systems,” claimed Snowden.

Technology firms argue that end-to-end encryption, which encrypts messages as they are delivered so that only the intended recipient can see them, is important to ensure user privacy.

However, governments are concerned about the technology that is preventing law enforcement from investigating serious crimes such as terrorism and child sexual abuse.

The use of end-to-end encryption has long been a point of contention between governments and large technology companies. Apple, for example, has often argued with US authorities about encryption and data protection.

Privacy “should be the power of the individual,” Snowden continued. “It was supposed to protect us, to protect us from the institutional giants who marched in the cities of our day, be it in modern times or in the days before that.”

“It was an isolating layer that allowed those of us with very little power in society, because we are individuals, to think, act and associate freely,” he added.

The former intelligence advisor leaked classified documents to journalists in 2013 regarding NSA surveillance programs to bug cell phones and internet communications from people. For some he is seen as a hero; to others a traitor to his country.

Facebook doesn’t “matter”

Citing Facebook and other tech giants, Snowden said, “The same companies that have worked so hard over the years to spread encryption are now beginning to fear the next step.”

“Groups like Facebook want as much information as possible. So they are now restricting the use of end-to-end encryption. They will say, for things for which we do not want business liability.” , we will use end-to-end encryption. “

“They’re not socially minded,” added Snowden. “They don’t care. They care about their interests.”

Facebook wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

His comments seemed to contradict Facebook’s encryption messages. The company has faced backlash from US and UK officials over plans to introduce end-to-end encryption to all of its messaging apps.

Last year, the US and its Five Eyes allies – the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – issued a statement calling on tech companies to develop a solution that would allow law enforcement to access highly encrypted messages.

Meanwhile, the European Union is pushing the tech industry to find ways to give law enforcement access to digital evidence “without banning or weakening encryption”.

Apple recently postponed plans to check users’ devices for pictures of child sexual exploitation after being criticized by privacy officials.

According to Apple, the system would not scan people’s photos but instead look for digital “fingerprints” that match a US database of child abuse material. The Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the move, however, as a “back door” for government snooping.

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