Nearly seven months after journalist and privacy activist Glenn Greenwald publicized Edward Snowden’s first revelations of the vast scope of the NSA’s digital surveillance, his life has changed absolutely.
Living in Brazil, he is advised not to travel. He’s a hero to privacy activists, and demonized by governments and national security agencies. And in a video keynote address to the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) in Hamburg today, he promised that he and Edward Snowden aren’t anywhere near finished.
“There are a lot more stories to come, a lot more documents that will be covered,” Greenwald said. “It’s important that we understand what it is we’re publishing, so what we say about them is accurate.”
Greenwald’s role as keynote speaker at a conference attended in large part by programmers and hardware hackers was sign of how badly the half-year of revelations of digital surveillance by the NSA and its allies has shaken the hacker and privacy communities.
Much of the CCC’s four days of talks and workshops are dedicated to exploring the implications of Snowden and Greenwald’s revelations, from discussions about NSA attacks on the Tor private-communications network to a call by Julian Assange for hackers to fight back against the intelligence agencies.
“This is a digital agent orange. It took the leaves from the forest where we used to live and flourish,” said Tim Pritlove, one of the annual event’s organizers.
In his keynote speech, former Guardian columnist Greenwald paid rueful due to his own onetime lack of encryption skills, but said that most journalists covering national security had been no different as recently as a year ago. That has now changed, both among journalists and the interested general public, he said.
“One of most significant outcomes of the last few months has been the increased awareness of the importance of encryption and privacy,” he said. “It’s a remarkable sea change.”
But even outrage won’t change policy through traditional democratic processes, he said. The power of the NSA and the security establishment is too strong, and democratic governments are proving unable to resist the seduction of surveillance-derived knowledge.
More promising have been signs of allies showing genuine signs of indignation, and indications that important companies are feeling economic effects as a result. Most recently, he said, Boeing lost a $4 billion contract in Brazil in part because of that country’s anger at the extent of US spying.
“Power sectors don’t get persuaded by lofty arguments. It’s important to devise ways to raise the costs to the systematic invasion of our privacy,” he said. “When it’s no longer we in fear of them, but they in fear of us, that’s when these policies will change.”
After six months of stories based on Snowden’s revelations, Greenwald said a single theme had overshadowed any of the stories’ individual elements.
“It is literally true, without hyperbole, that the goal of the NSA and its partners in the English-speaking world is to eliminate privacy globally,” he said. “They want to make sure there is no communication that evades their net.”
He said he was working on a new story indicating that the NSA was “obsessed” by the idea that people could still use some Internet devices and mobile phones on airplanes without being recorded. “The very idea that human beings can communicate for even a few moments without their ability to monitor is intolerable.”
While much of the public reaction to the stories has been encouraging, he directed bitter criticism at the governments of countries that had protested the US government’s actions, but had done nothing to help Snowden, who remains in Russia under certain threat of prosecution should he return to the United States.
“For Germany or Brazil to defy the United States, there is a cost to that. But there was even greater cost to Edward Snowden to come forward in defense of your rights, and he did it anyway,” Greenwald said. “They have an ethical and moral obligation to do what he did for them, which is to protect his rights.” WIRED