Edward J. Snowden used a Google+ hangout to call techies to the frontlines of privacy protection during his March 10 keynote at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. Snowden also stressed that, rather than undertaking a massive information-gathering effort, the US government needs to be doing more to protect intellectual property.
According to a report in Reuters, Snowden said "the government's priority has been an expansive and ill-executed system of massive information collection instead of protecting the vast amounts of intellectual property that support the U.S. economy."
Based on media reports of his SXSW address, Snowden was speaking to a largely sympathetic crowd, which is probably no big surprise. After all, SXSW began in 1987 as a showcase for independent and alternative music, a way to provide exposure and opportunity for artists who could not otherwise get the attention of traditional monolithic record labels.
Some ten years later, the music industry became the canary in the proverbial coal mine of intellectual property protection. And the free sharing of music, video, and written content via the Internet is, arguably, the primary reason why the value of such intellectual property has suffered to the point of undermining entire industries.
In the intervening years, SXSW has morphed into a major music, film, and technology meeting of the minds. So now, we see the techies -- whose developments may have undermined the core of copyright protection for recording artists -- standing shoulder to shoulder with the creative community at SXSW, applauding Snowden's call for more government involvement in IP protection.
Pretty ironic, eh?
That's not the only irony, here. As The New York Times points out in its article "Snowden Tries to Rally Tech Conference to Buttress Privacy Shields," the irony of using G+ for his address "was not lost on Mr. Snowden or others, who joked about the fact that Google was involved in many of Mr. Snowden’s revelations."
Indeed, Google probably knows more about you and me than even the NSA does. In fact, it's that very personal data being gathered by Google, Facebook, Verizon, and others that the NSA has reportedly been monitoring.
Snowden spoke to conferences attendees remotely from Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum after fleeing the US in summer 2013. Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has been under fire for leaking classified documents that revealed large scale government surveillance. Some consider him as a traitor, others call him a patriot.
According to The New York Times:
Mr. Snowden said he hoped to raise a call to arms to developers, cryptographers and privacy activists to build better tools to protect the privacy of technology users. The goal, he said, was that encryption would ultimately be considered as a necessary, basic protection, and not something easily dismissed as an “arcane black art.”
Also on the panel during Snowden's SXSW address was Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. According to a report from NBC News, Soghoian said "We need to lock things down. We need to make services secure out of the box. It's going to require a rethink from developers."
Funny, that's what I heard many recording industry executives say in the early days of peer-to-peer music filesharing in an effort to protect their intellectual property.
So, my question today is this: Are we approaching a tipping point after which personal privacy will no longer have any meaning, just as we've lived through a tipping point in the late-1990s and early-2000s during which the intellectual property of creative works ceased to have value?
What do you think? Are you ready as a techie to answer Snowden's call to do all you can to protect privacy, even if the company you work for doesn't agree? What about intellectual property? Have you ever downloaded a song or film without paying for it? Do you think the government needs to be more involved in protecting intellectual property? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
— Susan Nunziata, , Director of Editorial, EnterpriseEfficiency.com