Jack Dorsey is no stranger to the plight of whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Twitter CEO has been vocal about his support to pardon Snowden and is prominent on the PardonSnowden.org website and petition to have the CIA whistleblower pardoned.
That he is now playing interviewer to Snowden’s interviewee is an interesting twist. On Tuesday morning, Dorsey sat down with Snowden by Periscope to ask him questions submitted to him over Twitter. The conversation was also facilitated by the ACLU, which is part of the Pardon Snowden movement. The conversation was sparked to drum up more support for the movement, which has just over a month to sway President Obama to pardon Snowden.
Snowden was shown with headphones in a blackened room and the interview essentially gave him a microphone to tell his story and espouse his theories on technology and surveillance.
Dorsey won’t get any awards for pressing and intense questioning. His questions were broad, delivered in a monotone voice, and gave Snowden ample opportunity to talk his side of the story. Dorsey opened with a “give us a retro on what happened,” which let Snowden go for over 10 minutes.
Snowden began with how the US was founded by trying to extricate ourselves from an government that had reached too far and had too much monitoring power over its citizens. He talked about the Bill of Rights and a government enumerated powers, meaning, in his words, “if the government isn’t supposed to do something, it’s not supposed to happen.”
He reminded us of restrictions against the ultimate power of the government, and the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
“As long as there’s not concrete evidence you’ve done something wrong, you’re supposed to be left alone,” said Snowden.
He went on to say that we need to trust our elected officials, and took a swipe at Donald Trump, saying, “we need to see their tax returns, to make sure they’re not corrupt.”
Snowden came off as intelligent, reasonable and confident in his convictions throughout, which may be why Dorsey chose to let him speak at length.
Snowden gave background of how he got involved with uncovering what he called a government overreach by showing a clip of senator Ron Wyden asking director of national intelligence James Clapper if Americans were being spied upon. Clapper said no, under oath. Snowden saw that and asked if it was right.
He went on to defend himself, saying he never released any secrets. He only provided evidence through documentation that showed violations of law by the government by spying on essentially everyone in the US, and possibly around the globe.
He talked about the PRISM program, where tech companies worked with FBI to conceal extensive data mining and surveillance from companies and individuals. He discussed the “Five Eyes” program – an intelligence alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, that Snowden believes went way beyond looking for terrorists and got political and personal in its hunt for suspects.
Snowden feels no regret in his disclosures and feels they led to a more honest government, especially when courts came forward to say the government had overstepped its bounds and Congress passed new intelligence laws restricting the reach of government.
‘We’re not harming government. We’re improving it,” he said.
Snowden was then asked about his opinions on journalism and journalists.
“Journalists have a tough job. These are people who are doing the job because they believe in it. It’s a noble effort,” he stated. But he went on to say that a sad thing was happening in journalism, referring to fake news, which he said gets far more responses “when you put something crazy out there,” since it often gets shared, even though it’s false.
Since the government can’t control the news because of free speech, he said we need to have more free speech, not censorship.
The question from Dorsey then was why Snowden decided to join Twitter in 2014.
“What if you could tell your own story, your own platform. This is the beauty of the internet – everybody can join, everybody can share. When it works as intended, it’s beautiful. You can still be heard…The more I use it, the more I respect it.”
He used an example of Periscope, where protesters on the streets in Turkey were using the live streaming technology to make sure their voices were heard.
“So long as you have a phone, you have a voice,” he said
Dorsey asked Snowden what the company could do to improve its communications. Snowden replied with a fairly technical answer you might expect from a programmer. He had issues with losing characters when you add a picture, and he thinks the user experience should be more integrated to have more of an impact. He also questioned the ability to edit tweets, saying that the original tweet should still be able to be viewable to hold people accountable.
One issue brought up was what he thinks will happen when Trump gets into office.
“A lot of people are thinking that there will be a deal where I will be handed over to Trump. Could it happen? Yes. Am I worried about it? No,” he said, adding that it would be a terrible violation of human rights, but it would be one attributed solely to Snowden.
Snowden thwarted any rumors that he is a Russian spy, since he is stuck in Russia. He claimed that he was on his way to South America to apply for asylum in friendly countries, like France, but was stopped in Russia, where his passport was revoked.
To stop the spread of rampant government surveillance and keep the power of the individual’s right to privacy, we need to care. He said by not speaking up and defending our rights, we do ourselves and our future a great disservice. He said we need to act, organize, or at the very least, invest some part of ourselves in organizations that can make change.
Snowden is worried that we are constantly creating records of our movements with technology. He doesn’t think that technology is bad, however, but the fact that companies and the government can monitor your metadata and create records that the NSA and other agencies can track you is wrong.
“How do we return control over our identities?” he asked.
Snowden finished by saying that he was part of a generation that grew up connected, and that his favorite book is essentially online. He reads from a book that never ends and that we are the authors of a new story that reaches everyone on the earth.
“Nothing has held more influence for me as the internet itself,” he concluded.