Greenwald shows optimism at 30C3

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3 January, 2014

On 27 December 2013, journalist Glenn Greenwald held a keynote speech for 6000 hackers on the 30th Chaos Communications Congress (30C3). Greenwald became widely known after he reported about the NSA surveillance programs, based on classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden. In his speech, Greenwald points out some worrisome developments, but he also shows optimism for the future.

Greenwald states that the importance to security technology and privacy technology has become really central in the last six months. Many people now appreciate the importance of the security of their communications. Greenwald finds it really encouraging to see this technology spreading so pervasively. Previously, only 2 to 3% of the e-mails he received were encrypted. Now, that percentage increased to more than 50%. It is a great cause for optimism, he says.

Greenwald is very critical about the US government system. According to him, there is a lack of supervision. He mentions the courts that should judge whether the governments are allowed to invigilate. These courts operate secretly and the judges are not objectively chosen, Greenwald says. Only governments come inside these courts, nobody else, so there is no control over the fairness of the judgement. He believes that the way the current system works intensifies the surveillance state rather than reigning it in any meaningful way.

Greenwald mentions some possible constraints for the surveillance state. According to Greenwald, it is possible that there are some courts that will impose some meaningful restrictions by finding that the surveillance programs are unconstitutional. It is much more possible that other countries around the world are truly indignant about the privacy breaches and together will create alternatives, either in terms of infrastructure or legal regimes, that will prevent the US from exercising their power over the internet, he says.

Greenwald finds it even more promising that large private corporations and internet companies are finally starting to pay the price for collaborating with this spying regime. There are finally forced to account for what they are doing. He says that these companies have unparalleled power to curb state surveillance.

However, Greenwald says that the greatest hope lies with the hackers he is talking to and the skills they possess, as the battle over internet freedom will be fought out primarily on a technological battlefield. One of the most pressing question is whether talented people will succumb to the temptation to work for companies that destroy privacy, instead of using their talents to improve and protect privacy. “I’m very optimistic, because that power does lie in your hands.” Greenwald says.

Another cause of optimism that he has, is the pro-privacy alliance is a lot bigger and stronger then a lot of us realize and it is rapidly growing, according to Greenwald. He praises Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, WikiLeaks and other whistleblowers that sacrificed themselves to reveal the state’s corruption and inspired more people to do the same.

Watch Greenwald’s keynote speech here.

Jonathan Toornstra
Jonathan Toornstra

Legal researcher

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