Whistleblower. Hero. Traitor. Patriot.
These words and more have been used to describe former cybersecurity contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2013 copied and distributed thousand of documents to reporters and whose stories of Western intelligence agencies — including Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSEC) — shook the world.
This morning Snowden told the the annual SecTor cyber security conference in Toronto that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau want to amend the controversial Bill C-51 anti-terrorism law and not repeal it because he ”is afraid of being attacked for being soft on terrorism.”
Speaking by video from Russia, where he fled to avoid prosecution by U.S. authorities, Snowden said the legislation, needs three fixes: First, a judicial body should have oversight over federal intelligence agencies that has the power to prosecute authorities that have broken the law. Second, because intelligence agencies are trading personal information of citizens “like baseball cards” citizens should be told if the data sharing hasn’t led to an arrest for criminal activity. And finally, what Snowden called the criminalization of speech through vague definitions of terrorism should be taken out of C -51.
A lot of what police call terrorism is the activity of what he called “common criminals” or those who are trying to make a political point but don’t constitute a “super criminal threat.”
He also said that governments are “lazy” for demanding software vendors put backdoors into their systems that can be accessed by law enforcement or intelligence agencies with a warrant. Any backdoor can also be access by a government like China, he said.
He also offered several ways people can better secure their personal information. Corporations should work for their customers first, not governments, he said, so they should only hold personal records for as long as they need and not indefinately.
He also said that in addition to following the usual safe online practices citizens should talk about government surveillance and civil rights with their families and friends and support civil rights organizations.
Snowden is a polarizing person.
“No doubt about it: Edward Snowden opened the windows and let the sun shine in on government surveillance,” tweeted Canadian privacy expert Ann Cavoukian last month. On the other hand. Also last month the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee issued a 36 page report into his illegal downloading of classified documents that called him a “disgruntled employee.” The vast majority of the documents he stole had no connection to privacy or civil liberties, the report said. “Snowden’s actions did severe damage to U.S. national security, compromising the Intelligence Community’s anti-terror efforts and endangering the security of the American people as well as active-duty U.S. troops.”
Since his revelations legislators and intelligence agencies in a number of Western countries — including Canada have been sensitive to explain what kind of personal information they’ve been collecting and why, although a number insist they have lawful authority and the need to confront terrorists. While the new Liberal government has issued a consulting paper on new legislation to change the controversial Bill C-51, critics complain the discussion paper frames the debate in terms that give little doubt the government is leaning towards the police.
For example, it repeats Canadian police claims that “without specific legislation designed to permit access, law enforcement and national security agencies have had difficulty getting timely and effective access to BSI (basic subscriber information)” since the Supreme Court said they need a search warrant. There are also complaints the proposed intelligence oversight mechanism isn’t independent or very powerful.
The last time Snowden spoke about this country was in 2015 when he spoke by teleconference to Canadian reporters. He criticized Canada for having one of the weakest intelligence agency oversights among Western Nations. However, he didn’t comment directly on Bill C-51, saying it was up to Canadians to decide what was best.
Over the years he has made a number of statements about how the public and private sectors should face security. He’s called for end to end encryption in all forms of messaging, for the protection of citizens, arguing that it would force spy agencies to focus on suspicious people rather than vacuuming up data from thousands of people at a time.