Celebrity whistleblower Edward Snowden will hit Britain's TV screens tomorrow to warn families: "A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all."
The ex-NSA sysadmin – temporarily exiled in Russia after leaking documents about the US and the UK's massive internet surveillance operations – will give this year's Channel 4 Alternative Christmas Message. Snowden's video address is already available to watch online for those who don't mind logging in and can't wait until it is broadcast at 4.15pm on December 25.
Channel 4's Xmas Day message lampoons the Queen's annual speech to the nation and Commonwealth, which is beamed worldwide by the BBC on the same day at 3pm. Past Channel 4 speakers have included Australian comedian Adam Hills, a team of midwives, the President of Iran, cartoon character Marge Simpson, and telly chef Jamie Oliver.
"Hi," Snowden starts tomorrow's address before thanking Brits for tuning in. The whistleblower summarizes his revelations that the US and the UK's NSA and GCHQ intelligence agencies are tapping internet connections, phones and computers worldwide to collect massive amounts of information about innocent folks. Then, referring to the high level of surveillance in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, he opines:
Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book – microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us – are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.
A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves; an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.
And that’s a problem because privacy matters, privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.
Last week, Snowden talked about smartphone snooping by the US in a second plea to Brazil for asylum, an unsuccessful bid in which he offered to help uncover Uncle Sam's surveillance of South America.
Tomorrow's brief speech, presumably filmed in or near his apartment in Moscow, coincides nicely with a Washington Post interview, published yesterday. In that article, Snowden declared his whistleblowing mission "accomplished" – allowing him to, we surmise, now move on to the job of rebuilding his shattered life or shift his position from source to full-time activist, or both.
The former intelligence agency contractor told WaPo journalist Barton Gellman that he had lobbied within the NSA against the internet dragnets, adding: "All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed. I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it."
Continuing along those lines, Snowden concludes in his Channel 4 message:
The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it.
Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.
On the subject of Snowden's internal protests to bosses, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told the Post: "We have not found any evidence to support Mr Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention."
Revelations of internet monitoring should not shock long-time readers of The Reg, for we reported on GCHQ building web surveillance systems way back in 2009.
However, one interesting thing to emerge from the Post interview is the reminder that high-tech spying is not just about cracking encryption, compromising chipsets, tapping internet backbone fibre, intercepting data-center communications, and so on. Even the most secure links in the world can be undone by poor OPSEC, which will be exploited by agents:
"People must communicate," US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during a briefing, according to the WaPo. "They will make mistakes, and we will exploit them.”