SURVEILLANCE WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden appeared on stage in a TED talk as a mobile robot head.
Snowden is at risk of being arrested by the authorities if he travels, so he has chosen to appear at a few recent events virtually.
A Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) event took this a bit further and installed Snowden in a mobile telepresence robot for his talk with Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Chris Anderson.
Snowden, who was speaking from somewhere in Russia, said that more PRISM revelations are still to be released, and suggested that they might be even more damning.
The talk was billed as a 'pop in', and Snowden was on stage for around half an hour. He started by saying that the PRISM story is not about him, nor his character, and that he expected discussion to focus on what is important, and away from his hero or traitor status.
"Who I am doesn't matter at all. Hate me and move on," he said. "What matters here are the issues. That's what I hope the debate moves towards." He added that he would not call himself either a traitor or a hero, but rather a citizen of the US.
Snowden said that if he thought that his revelations would not have been smothered by using official channels he would have used those channels. Working with journalists let him give that information directly to US citizens and start a debate. He added that he is "comfortable with the decisions that I have made", and added that despite protests, no harm has resulted from the leaks.
Anderson pulled up a slide that showed how technology companies provide access to their data. Snowden said that the data comes from company servers, but added that each company deals with requests in a different way. "It comes from the companies themselves," he said.
"The biggest thing that an internet company can do right now is to enable SSL on every page that you visit," he said. "If you look at... [the novel] 1984 on Amazon.com the NSA can see that... [Amazon doesn't] use encryption by default and we can't use it to browse. All companies need to move to encrypted browsing by default."
Snowden said that the NSA has a system of boundless informants that collects more information on citizens than the equivalent Russian agency does on its own people.
He painted a rather bleak picture of the NSA collection system and its oversight, saying that the chair of the US Senate committee that oversees the NSA has no idea that "the rules are being broken thousands of times every year".
Snowden told people who say "I have nothing to hide" that they are giving away rights that they might need at some later time. He said, "People should be able to call a loved one, to buy a book online without wondering how these events are going to look to an agent of the government possibly years into the future.. We have a right to privacy."
Tim Berners-Lee arrived on stage and described Snowden as a "hero", and the whistleblower responded by saying that he agreed with the web pioneer's plans for an internet charter.
"I grew up in the internet... A Magna Carta is exactly what we need," he said. "We need to encode our values not just in writing, but in the structure of the internet." µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ