Startalk Podcast: Edward Snowden

9/10 Microphones, Listen HERE

  • Who can teach the things that have never been taught? Isaac Newton
    • Knowledge must originate somewhere and it can’t be the classroom that only teaches what is known by definition
    • Pursuit of unknowns, the problems that haven’t been solved – not what we know, but what we don’t know
    • “It’s not the question I know I want answered, it’s the question I don’t even know to ask yet” – Neil Tyson
    • Isaac Asimov (legendary SciFi writer) The word that triggers discovery is often “that’s funny” or “hmmm” – when we realize how little we know
      • Foundation Series– Highly recommended for anyone who hasn’t read Asimov before and likes scifi and/or psychology

Snowden’s Past:

  • Dropped out of high school and went straight to community college, then admitted to a Master’s program in UK for computer security
    • Then became a contractor to the government at age 16!
    • Ed regret for dropping out is not learning chemistry (nerd), he has since learned on his own
      • Fun Fact: Uranium, neptunium and plutonium where named after planets (back when Pluto was a planet)
      • Periodic table: A record of our progress as a civilization – Helium discovered on the Sun first and only later found on earth
    • Guided learning is important, but experimentation needs to be part of your daily life, who you are and how you live
      • This is the focus on the Museum of Natural History – not curriculum focused
      • If you don’t have that initial rounded out education you may miss out on leverage various knowledge in your own area of focus (avoid gaping holes), but the rest of learning needs to happen outside of the classroom
    • 9/11: Snowden was 16 and a NSA contractor
      • Driving to the NSA when he heard about it on the radio
        • All hands message to lock the NSA down, no security on the base back then and nobody knew what was happening and that was scary for the NSA
        • That fear of the unknown if unchecked can cause a chilling of civil liberties – even through good intentions
        • Ed came from a military family and as things developed post 9/11 Snowden signed up for the army to do his part (took a long time to develop any skepticism to even blatantly false claims like the Iraq war)



  • Goal to encode a message to make it look like randomness
    • If properly done, no way to tell they are encrypted – so you don’t even know to intercept it
    • Over time Ed thinks that any time all messaging will start to be encrypted
    • How might this impact communication with Aliens?
      • If we are listening to aliens, we only can hear them if they aren’t encrypted and thus we can’t even tell they are messages…
    • We know that most things sent are electronically naked and can be subverted (unencrypted)
      • We expect these to be private, but they aren’t actually private from civil or governmental actors
    • Compression: Lose less compression is usually done by shortening patterns (e.g. all “governments = g”)
      • Can only go so far without losing info
      • Encryption is different from this, it must be reversible 100%, can’t lose even 1 small piece
    • Why the Constitution Trumps All Other Law to Snowden
      • Having nothing to hide is never a reason for violating rights
      • By tracking people’s communications you are tracking their associations and networks = political affiliations, the people who matter most to them, travel, books, things they buy, people they love, people they are and want to be (job applications)
        • These are also intensely private and gives the government power to act on this information (especially if covered by secret law)
        • They could use this against the public with a flick of a switch, a power that no government have been given before
      • There is a difference between when you know you’re sharing information (e.g. going to airport security) and secret programs when it happens without your awareness and approval of us or Congress
      • Second court of appeals of NY found the NSA program was illegal and violation – said that it must be changed
        • Most of Congress didn’t even know about the program
        • Only 8 members of 535 are told the truth of what is going on (Gang of 8)
        • Court: Can’t substitute 8 individuals for all 535, especially when those 8 get tons of cash from defense industry
      • What if public wanted this and vote for it? Then would be better, but still no go
        • Congress cannot pass any law that allows any unwarranted search and seizure in advance of wrong doing (pre-crime…)
        • They would need to change the constitution itself before they could legally pass such a law
        • Deeper Point: The majority cannot vote away the rights of the minority, not when they are fundamental rights (guaranteed by constitution, but also Universal Declaration of Human rights that US signed on and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights that US promoted)
      • Argument: Nothing to hide, nothing to fear
        • This misunderstand basic rights
        • You do not have to justify your rights
        • Any intrusion must be justified by the government that it is for a vital reason
        • When people say they having nothing to hide, it’s like they are saying they don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say
          • They don’t have to be valuable to you in that moment
          • Can’t have freedom of press without free speech and can’t have a free society without the right to privacy
        • Didn’t Ed swear an oath to the protect the government secrets? – Actually not really
          • There is a generic non-disclosure form that is signed (SF320)
            • However, at very first day of job you swear the Oath of Service to “Defend the constitution of the US against all enemies foreign and domestic”
          • What do you do when the two conflict? Protect the constitution vs. a generic government form?
          • “Those who surrender freedom for security deserve neither”- Ben Franklin
            • Certain truths like this transcend time and situations and this applies as well as today at 200 years ago
          • Rights should only be expanding over time, not narrowing – any narrowing should be alarming
          • When we argue against being brave and courageous, we should be careful and afraid – that is a fundamentally illiberal message to the world
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