Edward Snowden has some advice for maintaining online privacy in an age of widespread NSA surveillance. Snowden called Google and Facebook “dangerous” while praising Apple’s encryption efforts.
"We're talking about encryption. We're talking about dropping programs that are hostile to privacy,” Snowden said in an interview published Saturday by the New Yorker. “For example, Dropbox? Get rid of Dropbox; it doesn't support encryption, it doesn't protect your private files. And use competitors like SpiderOak that do the same exact service, but they protect the content of what you're sharing."
Snowden, the former NSA analyst who revealed the extent of U.S. government surveillance in 2013, did so from a hotel in Hong Kong before leaving for Russia. Having ditched his Hawaii apartment and $122,000 annual salary earlier that summer, he said in the interview he intended only a brief stay in Russia before leaving for Latin America, only to face visa issues that prevented him from leaving. Snowden is now actively sought by the U.S. to face espionage charges.
Dropbox defended itself in a June blog post after Snowden bashed the service’s security. All of the files its users send and receive are “encrypted while traveling between you and our servers” and when they are “at rest” on Dropbox’s servers. SpiderOak encrypts data locally on a user’s computer as well, as opposed to only when it is in transit or in the cloud.
Snowden said Facebook and Google have improved their methods of protecting user privacy but were still “dangerous services” that should largely be avoided. Ironically, the interview was conducted remotely over Google Hangouts and streamed live on the tech giant’s YouTube.
Consumers should also be wary of standard text-messaging services from wireless providers, Snowden said. Silent Circle for iPhone and Android and RedPhone, which is currently Android-only, were better replacements because they encrypt texts -- but require that both users install the app to communicate.
Apple’s decision to encrypt iOS will not offer criminals what the FBI called a “virtual fortress” against law enforcement, Snowden said. Law enforcement can still request warrants for a suspect’s phone, as well as the key to any and all encryption, and wireless providers and manufacturers like Apple can also be subpoenaed, he said.
Snowden offered a counter to people who say that only those with something to hide were concerned with NSA and government surveillance.
“You are inverting the model of responsibility for how rights work," Snowden said. “When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right.' You’re saying, ‘I don’t have this right because I’ve got to the point where I have to justify it.’ The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights,” not the other way around."