Edward Snowden Speaks Via Satellite at Cantech Investment Conference 2017

Equities Staff  |

2017 CANTECH INVESTMENT CONFERENCE: BIGGER. BOLDER. BETTER. Thank You again to our partners in covering this unique group of companies. We converted the audio to text so you could get the full message from keynote speaker Edward Snowden, who spoke via satellite to the audience.

The conference this year has a world-famous astronaut and an exhibit floor that was bigger than a CFL football field, The Cantech Investment Conference burst on the scene in January 2014 and quickly became the country's most talked about, best attended, and most exciting technology conference. Attracting innovation sector investors with billions in capital, Cantech fast became the place for Canadian disruptors to be seen, make a splash, and to get funded. For the attention-starved technology sector, Cantech was a gift. The 2017 Cantech Investment Conference was bigger, bolder, and better than ever before. Below is the text from the keynote Edward Snowden. There are a few gaps here and there in the audio conversion to text, but we thought this was a valuable piece of the recent keynote for The Cantech Investment Conference 2017.

Photo attribute from The Cantech Investment Conference

Snowden: I saw all sides of the intelligence operation which is, in fact, relatively rare. I didn't just see electronic intelligence. I didn't just see human intelligence. (I couldn't make out seconds 12-14). I worked on both sides of the profession. And so, (I couldn't make out seconds 12-14) I sort of understood and believed in the mission and what was going on. Because it was about people it was quite simple, it was easy to grasp and understand.

I saw the things that things had changed, and even people who were working at the NSA didn't really understand the scope, or scale, of what was happening on the technical side. Where, as you said, what had changed? In secret, without anybody's knowledge, without anyone's consent, without any votes, was the intelligence apparatus of the US in the shadows. It had changed from its traditional method of intelligence operations. And this is what is understood to be the status quo of operations around the world. Which is targeted surveillance. This means you suspect somebody doing something wrong; they're an arms dealer, they're a terrorist, they're a spy, etc. You go to a court, you show probable cause, and you start monitoring this person. You can get wire taps from the court, and they say go after this person. You put the clamps on the side of their house, you blackbag job, you put cameras in their office, whatever. You know everything about this person, but your not spying on everybody else, particularly in the US, and particularly against Americans. Our Constitution, our founding law, prohibits that. Even if Congress passes a law in the US, that's not permissible. But that is what exactly what was happening. This was a relic of post 9-11 response, and this was something I didn't know, or my peers. People before me in the NSA actually stood up and tried to say something about this, to raise questions to lawyers. There was a famous case of Thomas Drake who preceded me. I'm sort of standing on his shoulders. He told the NSA you guys are breaking the law. You guy are violating the Constitution. He went very high, the number 2 lawyer in the NSA.

But there were people like me who were paying attention, who were learning these lessons. This is why I went to journalists, ultimately, after the system of checks and balances we have, have failed. I had seen other mechanisms like Wikileaks. I wasn't a big critic of Wikileaks, but I saw them as distinct in my mind. I wanted to replicate the system of checks and balances that have failed. I didn't want to say the public needed to know this, this, and this because I'm right. What if I made a mistake? What if I didn't really see the big picture or really understand?

Photo attribute from The Cantech Investment Conference

Moderator: It wasn't about you it was about the story.

Snowden: Right. the idea here is that public policy requires public debate. We can't subsitutre the judgement of 8 people behind closed doors for 330 million Americans. Every time we do that in the past, it ends up poorly. That isn't to say there cannot be secrets at all, right? That there cannot be surveillance at all. I'm not saying we should burn down the NSA.

Moderator: We'll get to that part of your story for sure. But we have 500 people in the room here most of whom in the tech industry Like me, we're excited it became commercialized in the mid 1990s. Like wow, look at this! The world became a much smaller place very quickly. WE can share ideas, nothing we couldn't find out, and we could be anonymous if we wanted to be. Where did it all go wrong? You've exposed some of our biggest tech firms like Google and Skype collaborating with the NSA to share information about us without our knowledge. Where did it all take a turn? And why?

Snowden: So this is a very long story. There have always been, in telecommunications and service providers, the oldest of the old, we're talking the big data collectors, the AT&Ts of the world that never seen their customers as their customers. This was their founding problem. Whether they were transmitting telegrams, or handling phone calls, they had secret relationships with the government. They did problematic things. Something that came out of extraordinary fashion just a few months ago was a program called the Hemisphere Program which, contrary to traditional American model, companies cannot be compelled to hand over data without a warrant. But AT&T has a long history of helping the American government, and other governments have this relationship with their own providers. They were able to get regulatory benefits by breaking these rules. The government wouldn't need to compel us to hand over this data if we did it voluntarily. AT&A, since 1987, has been keeping records of every call people make, text message, internet communication, and stored them. Since 2008, they started saving the location these calls were made. This is interesting. Where did this come from? This is the passage of a law in the US that gave a kind of retroactive immunity to precisely these big telecommunication data haulers to be more aggressive and go further and further. But the short version is this. AT&T discovered very long ago they could sell legally privileged data as a service to the government in a way they couldn't to businesses. This was sort of the original sin that started hundreds of years ago. It didn't originate with AT&T specifically. The industries began to cross-pollinate into the technology community, and into the actual internet service providers like the Comcasts of the world into the Googles.

Moderator: At the end of the day, the fault is the Dow Jones. We've got to make the quarter. Let's figure out how to squeeze more money out of the data we're collecting, and make out numbers."

Snowden: Yes, there's a part of that. There's the fundamental business driver. This can be an additional source of revenue. But this wouldn't be worth the cost benefit to any corporate PR person if they knew it would be on the front page of the NY Times. The only reason it worked is because the government said no one will ever find out about this. You can violate the rights of every single one of your customers, and you'll never see the inside of court room or a front page. And this is the problem; the secret power of exception. What does this mean? The power to act contrary to accepted world purview. The problem with this is when 1 player succeeds in gaining this power of exception, the rules lose all meaning to other players. Why do the rules have to apply to them but no one else does? This creates a fundamental tension and erosion in a democratic society. How do you convince all other players, those following the rules, that the rules deserve respect when they aren’t being applied equally? How do you recover from that? That’s where we are today.

Moderator: Let’s talk about why we should about people having our information. I can put forth an argument the world is a dangerous place. Technology has resulted in never being a better time to be a consumer. Consumers have this power, but so do criminals. Why do we care if a little bit of our privacy is leaking out on the edges? Why is it so important?

Snowden: This is a central question. It’s the most difficult coming to terms. This is the most dangerous time we’ve been in. We have terrorists. It’s the worst time in history. But no one ever fact checks that. Academic studies show this is fundamentally not true. Raw causalities in Western Europe, like Paris attacks and Brussel bombing. They suffered more deaths from terrorists in the 60s 70s and 80s then they have today, even during the worst years of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Moderator: Some would say it’s because the surveillance.

Snowden: Some might say that but you have to test it. There is a basic rule of logic that says that which can be asserted without evidence, must be dismissed without evidence. It’s not what is claimed but what is supported. This is one of the primary criticism in the reporting. What if, by publishing these things, having the public know what is going on, terrorists can operate freely? They can start harming us, and change tactics. But we’ve had this studied, and we found that there is no difference in rate of encryption use despite claims by government officials. NSA director himself said “look this guy is a problem, but no damage has been done. Yes it’s inconvenient. Yes, we’ll have to reduplicate efforts to change things and track people.” I used to do this professionally. I sat behind that desk. I wasn’t focused on terrorists, which were actually considered to be easy targets. I focused on hackers which were considered a much more difficult targets to track. But to double back, terrorists have always known about surveillance because terrorism is a very Darwinian activity. Terrorists are traditionally outlaws, and what I mean by that is, they are beyond the protection of the law, right? If a normal person gets murdered it’ll get investigated, and people will go to jail. If terrorists get shot dead people are going to applaud and they’ll be happy stories on the front page. Terrorists who use Facebook on the right, terrorists who use a cell phone on the left, and a terrorist who uses neither, which terrorist will be alive at the end of the year? The one who doesn’t use these electronic communications. This is a process we learned very quickly. This is recorded facts in history, and not just assertions. Osama Bin Laden stopped using his cell phone in 1998. It wasn’t from leaks from the NSA either.

Bill Clinton made a critical mistake when Bin Laden made a call the day before as part of a strike at one of his camps. He never used a satellite phone again from that point in time..

And to get back final thing about “why should I care.” This is a central attack line, “why do you care if you can justify what you’re doing? The only thing we’re doing is going after bad guys.” The simplest formulation is if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.” What this is encouraging people to do, if you think about it, is to live in a fearful state. It shows yourself to the deprivation of outside groups to scrutinize how you live and how you think. And as long they agree with what you’re doing, don’t worry about it. And this misunderstand what rights are about, especially privacy. Privacy isn’t about having something to hide it’s about something to protect. We’re protecting an open and free society where people disagree and rebel in radical ways against the orthodoxies of the time. Slavery was entirely legal but fundamentally immoral.

(cut out audio)

The US courts affirmed by the UN, regardless if you’re doing anything and a crime occurs you can just roll back the page, the surveillance time machine, and see what was happening. Who was connecting to what system at this time, everyone everywhere, and then you look for the one that doesn’t fit in, the one that’s illegitimate. Then you follow that back continuously. The real thing here is when we talk about the differences between Obama and Trump, to focus on the personal is a missing point. When we put too much faith in our elected officials to solve problems we will be disappointed. When we look at Obama’s campaign to end warrantless wiretapping in America, he expanded it. These kind of things, when we compare to his actual track record helped drive me forward. The ACLU suspected and had good evidence of these surveillance programs got them all the way to highest court in February 2013. I didn’t come on board until June 2013. Obama had the power not to assert the state secrets privilege. To tell the court the facts of what was happening and let the court decide if this is lawful or not. He chose, to assert the privilege. The court said “while this does appear to be a very problematic program, the plaintiffs can’t prove it and the government said it’s classified. Therefore, we have to close the case.”

This is the kind of problem where every elected wants to look back at this dynamic and pursue the power of exception in secret because they’ll have policies they want to pursue.

Moderator: Did Russia hack the election?

Snowden: Republican experts said yes this is the consensus. Of course they deny it. I find it quite frustrating, as someone who worked at the NSA, who knows we have the capabilities to know these things but no real quantification has come out. They said they would produce this report to show, and they did publish a report, and every expert in cyber security looked at the report and said there are a lot of assertions but missing basic basic evidence. And public policy requires public evidence.

Moderator: Are you able to deliver that fact here at this conference?

Snowden: The problem is I don’t have access to (X Key Score?), NSA’s google for everyone’s private life. This is where cyber analysts spend their whole day. It’s wire sharking. And this is public. It’s not a secret. But the government still refuses to admit it’s happening even though it would resolve a lot of these public controversies like “did Russia hack the election?” When North Korea hacked the FBI put forth evidence but NSA wouldn’t. This is because, if the government said “yes we are monitoring the whole internet”, suddenly what Obama did in 2013 asserting the state secrets privilege before the Supreme Court it wouldn’t be able to be used. Once the government ADMITS the act, not just the newspapers proving it’s happening the court has to accept it. It’s now an established fact. The sad thing for the government here, even if these programs had real value as they decided the programs are violations of the Constitution. So long as the government refuses to have the debate to amend the Constitution to permit this, the minute they get to the court reviewing these programs, the programs will have to end. That’s the end of their career.

It’s a corrupted system of incentives. We can get the best people in the world, and we parachute them into these positions of responsibility they quickly realize they can be more powerful breaking the rules and not being held accountable. By the time it gets proved they’re long retired.

Moderator: This is a Canadian conference. Have you ever heard of Wayne Gretzsky or Kevin O’ Leary? O’ Leary thinks he’ll be the next prime minister. I bring that up. You work closely with Canada as part of a 5 Eyes Program. What is Canada’s involvement and what do Canadians have to be aware?

Snowden: The 5 Eyes Program is US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. What these guys do is a relic post WW2 era. These guys are not thinking in terms of rights. They don’t care about laws. They see their job as defending democracy regardless of the costs or who they step on. These are good people who do bad things for good reasons. They create a framework of these secret policy agreements which they all headline in bold “this is not a legal agreement or enforceable in court.” What they do is trade all information between countries, whatever it is or where it comes. This allows them to expand their reach. Suddenly New Zealand can see information from the US, and US vice versa. When the NSA became big enough you start to see everything, and that’s what you see happening.

The problem is, under Canadian law this is fundamentally violations of how things are supposed to work.

Moderator: Even when conservatives put in place to expand the power of the government to conduct surveillance.

Snowden: C-51, as you say, allowed beyond what is traditionally accepted under Canadian law. Before, spying on a Canadian citizen was incredibly difficult. But the framework of Canadian intelligence oversight absolutely collapsed with C-51. It’s easier to collect information in bulk on Canadians, specifically meta-data. When we talk about meta-data, there are two broad classes of information about you being collected by intelligence agencies and anyone with access in the backdoor. The content of your messages. This is what you say on the phone or write in an email. Most people don’t care about this because it’s too difficult to parse at scale. It’s too abstract. When you’re talking on the phone you can talk around certain things like names. You can say “hey it’s me,” and the other person just knows who you are.

Meta-data is actually far more invasive and far better understood by machines. This is what people don’t get. They think meta-data is less serious than the content, and should be less protected and this is a legal paradigm that’s spreading around the world and it’s much worse. Meta-data is exactly the same private information that a private detective would follow you around from when you woke up to when you went to bed. They aren’t in your house. They don’t hear what you’re saying. But as soon as they see your license plate leave they follow you, know where you’re at, where you’re going, what street you’re at, what time got there, where you stopped, where you went, who you went to the café with, how long you were there, etc. Where you went at night and who you were with. The entire grief of your social relationships. Everything that makes you who you, available at a glance. Without a warrant. To get that content, most governments still need a warrant. As an analyst at the NSA I almost never cared to see the content of the messages because it wasn’t worth it. By the time I went through the meta-data I already had everything I needed.

Moderator: Part of the problem too, even if you set up a system to get a warrant. There were very few times a warrant was turned down. Not to mention information gathered without a warrant.

Snowden: This is what is called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). It’s basically a secret rubber stamp court that never says no. In more than 33 years the government has asked FISA to authorize surveillance. This is roughly 34K requests, the court said no 11 times. The FISA court is adjudicating with the most extreme and dangerous complicated civil rights cases in US history. This is the same type of structure that authorizes the monitoring of minorities and activists in the US. This is recently. People who are Islamic who aren’t terrorists, who aren’t affiliated with Al Qaeda. Who help top secret security clearance. Who worked in the Bush administration. This court authorized them to be monitored for years despite no charges ever being brought.

Monitor: We’re also known for a company called Blackberry, in Canada…(audio cut off)

Snowden: We’re going to cut your market access unless you unlock these communications involved in the investigations that are going through your enterprise servers. They said “ok sounds good.” They followed the AT&T model where the customer isn’t the customer. The state is the customer. That’s the only person they have to please. Whereas Apple, that is very successful as they make this pivot towards enforcing, quite publicly, privacy rights, ultimately we’re not talking about privacy, we’re talking about society here through their corporate action.

There are issues, where Obama, who is considered a very liberal president, went on a tour and said the NSA isn’t going through ordinary people’s emails. This is in 2014. Then in 2016, there was a new program exposed in the US that scanned every single Yahoo customer email and Yahoo went along with it. Despite the fact this is beyond what the law requires. We have seen executive orders as Trump comes in to unchain even the bare limits of restrictions sharing this type of information, and these are the things people won’t see. When you have a provider like Yahoo that is shown to be working against its customers. They were in discussion to be bought out by Verizon and when this hit the news it suddenly threw a hand grenade in the negotiation conversation because working against your customers is going to hurt your brand.


Moderator: Despite what you said earlier about this technology not being effective making us safer. Reading this quote from Obama. I think it’s right you answer to it, and I’d like to get your feelings, and if you’d accept responsibility. “Our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with out nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands and publicly disclose classified information, we will not be able to keep our people safe.”

The guy, the head of the CIA coming in under Trump said, “He (Snowden) should be brought back from Russia, given due process, and I think the proper outcome should be the death sentence.”

There are obviously people who feel a little bit differently than you do about what has been exposed and the ability of our “enemies” to gain insight into our surveillance system.

Snowden: Let’s separate those two. Those are two separate accusations. First the president. I think he’s making a great argument he’s making. The idea we have these classification systems to exert some kind of political influence in their policy making, a process. That can slant, and these people don’t have a full understanding of the issues. In play because we don’t have a full representation of the facts. And this is something, unfortunately, he’s arguing against in all his actions in his administration. If you open the NY Times at the end of the day, you have leaks of classified information planted there by white house officials on a regular basis. This is how the newspaper process works, right? Selected leaking accounts all the time. Unfortunately, these are sometimes the most damaging to national security efforts. This isn’t just from my perspective. This is from having worked inside the CIA and NSA. We don’t have to go back to the Bush administration where he was outed by covert CIA operatives whose politics he didn’t like.

The US government, these anonymous officials, told the NY Times they have been monitoring, they were on the call listening, to all the senior leaders of Al Qaeda plotting attacks against the US. They’ll never be able to use that capability again because when you say “were on the call about this specific program.” These guys aren’t total idiots. They did this to spite political debate about the terrorist threats. It’s narrative control. The shameful thing here is, if we could get to a point of equality of access to information where we can all participate in policy debate, we could avoid these kind of policies. We wouldn’t be fenced in.

What Obama was really arguing about is “he deserves punishment because he broke the law.” But most senior intelligent officials in the US…

Moderator: What I’m more interested in Obama’s words is you weakened our security.

Snowden: Obama himself had said that. In 2014 he gave a landmark speech when he announced, that contrary to 2013 (nothing to see here), “we’ve drawn the right balance between privacy and civil liberties.” “this conversation has made us stronger as a nation.” Obama has to come down on me. He has to he has an obligation to.

James Clapper, the most senior intelligence official in the US, was asked by the Senate oversight committee in 2013, “is this type of surveillance happening.” That was the moment that I decided to go to journalists. (Playing Clapper audio). The problem is, he was sworn in to give truthful testimony by Congress and it’s a felony to give false testimony. What the president is establishing is look when senior officials break the law for political reasons, to the detriment of the public, he can be excused. Clapper hasn’t ever been charged.

Moderator: In the last 48 hours, Chelsea Manning had her sentenced lifted….(audio cut)

Snowden: Can we change the rules by making things more direct? Switzerland has a direct democracy model. All these experimental forms of government are things we should pursue and study. I think it’s foolish to presume the US has come up with the best.

It’s clearer than ever that things need to change for the better. We’re encountering problems that are no longer sporadic. They’re systemic. If we can’t solve problems that affect everyone, that go beyond borders. Things like climate change. We are all in trouble.

Thank You again to our partners in covering this unique group of companies. We converted the audio to text so you could get the full message from keynote speaker Edward Snowden, who spoke via satellite to the audience.

* This audio was transcribed into text, and some words may vary from original speech due to audio clarity. Equities take no responsibility for Ed Snowden's comments, the ideas are solely his, and does not hold the The Cantech Investment Conference liable for any errors in the transcribe.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer.


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