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The NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has urged lawyers, journalists, doctors, accountants, priests and others with a duty to protect confidentiality to upgrade security in the wake of the spy surveillance revelations.
The response of professional bodies has so far been lukewarm, not out of disinterest, but out of careless laziness.
The former National Security Agency and CIA computer specialist, wanted by the US under the Espionage Act after leaking tens of thousands of top secret documents, has given only a handful of interviews since seeking temporary asylum in Russia three years ago.
In recent interviews Snowden has also said:
- If he ended up in US detention in Guantánamo Bay he could live with it.
- He rejected various conspiracy theories surrounding him, describing as “bullshit” suggestions he is a Russian spy.
- He claims he has been living on savings, and money from awards and speeches he has delivered online round the world.
- Said he was holding out for a jury trial in the US rather a judge-only one, hopeful that it would be hard to find 12 jurors who would convict him if he was charged with an offence to which there was a public interest defense. Negotiations with the US government on a return to the US appear to be stalled.
Snowden, who recognizes he is almost certainly kept under surveillance by both the Russians and the Americans. He has revealed that he works online late into the night; a solitary, digital existence not that dissimilar to his earlier life.
He said he was using part of that time to work on designing encryption tools to help professionals such as journalists protect sources and data. He is negotiating foundation funding for the project, a contribution to addressing the problem of professions wanting to protect client or patient data, and in this case journalistic sources.
“An unfortunate side effect of the development of all these new surveillance technologies is that the work of journalism has become immeasurably harder than it ever has been in the past,” Snowden said.
“Journalists have to be particularly conscious about any sort of network data collection, any sort of license-plate reading device that they pass on their way to a meeting point, any place they use their credit card, any place they take their phone, any email contact they have with the source because that very first contact, before encrypted communications are established, is enough to give it all away.
“He added: “If we confess something to our minister inside a church that would be private, but is it any different if we send our pastor a private email confessing a crisis that we have in our life?
“Privacy rights groups are pressing to have existing legislation rewritten to include explicit protection for legal professional privilege from government surveillance. “We recognize that keeping up with advances in technology and its implications for confidentiality are challenging for all professionals.
We do have guidance which explains what professionals need to do if they are concerned about the security of personal information on systems they have been given to use. But in this rapidly changing area, we also need to keep on top of this ourselves, and we do regularly review our guidance to take account of changes in the external environment”.
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