Snowden, Ellsberg ask hackers to help obscure whistleblower activity
Snowden, Ellsberg ask hackers to help obscure whistleblower activity

Although data security and privacy legislation hasn't evolved yet, “there have been extreme changes” in privacy and security itself in the wake of the Edward Snowden documents, Glen Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Snowden to release information on the NSA mass surveillance program, told attendees at the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Privacy Summit in Washington Thursday.

In fact, Greenwald said prospective laws are “the least interesting” part of the equation, noting that Snowden's revelations helped raise awareness among individuals that their privacy was being compromised by government. And, he noted that some companies, such as Apple and Google, are pushing back against government intrusion/incursion by advocating for encryption — encryption, said Greenwald, “is a barrier to U.S. government spying — and showing less willingness to collaborate with government to share information on their customers with government agencies.

That pushback has prompted “vituperative” comments by government and law enforcement that he said are “usually reserved for journalists and activists,” implying that those companies are “friends of the terrorists” or are “aiders and abetters of terrorists.”

Demonizing them, he said, is an attempt to push them back into the more collaborative relationship technology companies have had with government in the past.  Many companies actively worked with the NSA, offering “what the law required them to do but also beyond” those requirements.

Earlier relationships with the NSA were beneficial, or at least came at no cost, to those companies. But now that kind of cooperation can cost them in terms of reputation — and business. 

“Companies are petrified that they will lose a whole generation” who get wooed by companies from other countries like Brazil that assure them that their data won't be shared with government.

That was a sentiment echoed later by a panelist in the session "Search Warrants vs. Privacy Laws: Can They Live Together?" who used the example of cloud users flocking to non-U.S. companies because data would be outside the reach of the U.S. government.

Noting that the NSA's motto is “Collect It All,” Greenwald urged the audience to take steps to secure the internet so it doesn't become a “tool” for monitoring, coercion and surveillance.