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Time Person of the Year runner-up Snowden wants unbreakable encryption for all citizens

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edward snowden (wikileaks)
edward snowden (wikileaks)

Edward Snowden was passed over in favor of Pope Francis for Time's Person of the Year. Nevertheless, the magazine does manage to acknowledge that Snowden's unprecedented leak of thousands of classified NSA documents has changed the face of domestic and international politics, privacy, journalism, and computing in general. For him, there is a clear need for reform, but ordinary citizens can and should make use of unbreakable encryption to keep their data safe.

Snowden stepped forward in June as the whistleblower behind the Guardian and Washington Post's blistering reports detailing the NSA's PRISM and Boundless Informant programs. Since then, he has taken temporary asylum in Moscow as new documents continue to reveal the depth of the intelligence community's surveillance tactics — all at a near daily clip. At a meeting with supporters in October, Time reports, Snowden reiterated his reasons for the leaks: "There is a far cry between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement ... and the sort of dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under a sort of an eye and sees everything, even when it is not needed." For him, President Obama should take the opportunity to make sweeping reforms to these programs, directing the NSA's power at creating new technological standards for surveillance.

"Arguing against encryption would be like arguing against hidden meanings in poetry."

Companies like Apple and Google have already come forward to condemn the NSA's spying apparatus. Congressional leaders have also called for reform on the issue. However, as Snowden told Time, the next necessary step on the part of the citizenry is to better use encryption. Here, technology can be used to solve a vast political problem. "In general," he told Time in an email, "if you agree with the First Amendment principles, you agree with encryption. It’s just code. Arguing against encryption would be analogous to arguing against hidden meanings in paintings or poetry."

Indeed, companies like Yahoo and Microsoft are moving towards encryption to keep user data safe.