By Sunny Dhillon, The Globe and Mail (BC Edition), April 6, 2016
VANCOUVER, Canada — Two of the people who posed questions to Edward Snowden during a sold-out Vancouver event say the whistle-blower provided valuable insight on issues both global and individual in scale.
Mr. Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor responsible for the release of thousands of classified documents detailing the American government’s use of mass surveillance, spoke via video link during an event hosted by Simon Fraser University on Tuesday, April 5. He is living in Russia under political asylum.
His comments touched on a number of areas, from the Panama Papers and the importance of whistle-blowers, to Canada’s new anti-terror legislation, to what individuals can do to better protect their privacy.
Micheal Vonn, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and a member of the panel that put questions to Mr. Snowden, said in an interview Wednesday that the event at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre had an “electric quality” to it.
Ms. Vonn said the Panama Papers – a cache of 11.5 million records leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that has been retained by politicians and business leaders around the world to channel money into tax havens – were a natural focus for the event.
But she said she was also struck by Mr. Snowden’s response when he was asked if analytics could be used to determine who would turn to terrorism.
Mr. Snowden said a review of a U.S. government surveillance program found it “had never stopped a single terrorist attack in the United States.” He said the program was also found to have “never made a concrete difference in a single terrorism investigation.”
Ms. Vonn, in the interview, said Mr. Snowden’s response highlighted the way in which a program can “create entire suspect communities as collateral damage for a program that doesn’t work.”
Mr. Snowden also discussed Canada’s new anti-terror legislation and the country’s connection to the United States and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
“It’s about broadening that bucket and making sure we put more Canadian information in that sharing bucket,” he said. “… Now I don’t want to say that it’s absolutely what’s happening, but … this is how it works, this is what we do for every other country.”
Peter Chow-White, an associate professor at SFU’s School of Communication who was also on Tuesday night’s panel, in an interview said he appreciated Mr. Snowden’s advice on how individuals can protect their privacy.
“We’re in a bit of a dilemma because we’re increasingly concerned about privacy, but we’re not behaving like it,” Prof. Chow-White said.
Mr. Snowden suggested people use a Tor browser and download an app called Signal for encrypted phone calls and text messages. He also suggested using a password manager and two-factor authentication for websites that allow it.
When asked about the Panama Papers, Mr. Snowden said they reveal “the most privileged and the most powerful members of society are operating by a different set of rules.
“They’re increasingly guarding knowledge of their operations, of their assets, of their interests,” he said. “At the same time, through programs of mass surveillance revealed in recent years, we, the private citizens, are increasingly transparent to government. The relationship between the governing and the governed has become inverted. And rather than those who represent us in our government being accountable to us, we are now accountable to them.”
Mr. Snowden said the Panama Papers show “more than ever, the role of the whistle-blower in a free society has become not only desirable but vital.”
When asked if he had had any contact with the person who leaked the Panama Papers records, Mr. Snowden said he had not.
Panama Papers: WikiLeaks’ Kristinn Hrafnsson calls for data to be released in full, report on New Cold War.org, April 7, 2016
Snowden tells Vancouver audience Panama Papers leaker hasn’t contacted him, by Tyler Orton, Business In Vancouver, April 6, 2016
Edward Snowden says Panama Papers show whistleblower role is ‘vital’, CBC, April 6, 2016
Selections of comments by readers of above Globe and Mail article:
* As investigative journalism decreases, the need for whistleblowers increases.
* When is the Globe going to do some investigative journalism and detail the Canadian tax-evasion nexus?
* Last night on national television, [former Conservative Party leader] Stockwell Day blamed the the Liberal government’s high taxes as the reason for tax evasion. But it’s been going on for decades. Over 170 billion dollars was cached away by wealthy Canadians in 2013 thanks to the Harper Government’s failure to shut down off shore tax evasion through legislation. Story here: G8 tax evasion proposals: Stephen Harper blocking progress on international deal, critics say [by Daniel Tencer, Huffington Post Canada, June 14, 2013].
The amount of money hidden from Canada’s tax collector has reached a record $170 billion, by one estimate, but critics of the Harper government say the prime minister is doing nothing about tax evasion — and is even blocking international efforts at combating the problem…
* It is highly unlikely the full list of Canadians will ever be publicly printed. I believe meetings have been underway with the rich and powerful to hide this from public view.
* “Whistleblowers” can’t do much either (better than nothing probably). Since society is controlled by media, they only tell filtered story. For example, among “11.5-million records leaked”, how many are reported by media here? Almost nothing except a few carefully chosen names (Putin isn’t even on that but mentioned many times). I have more interest in seeing Canadian or American names, since I live here. Where are they? The media still control it.
* Why not a single Canadian or American name is mentioned by media in both countries? But media keeps talking about a few foreigners? Isn’t that a distraction?
It is so strange; it makes people wonder. All North American medias are actually controlled by an “invisible hand”, otherwise how you explain all of them speak in the same tone, same story line? Are they that free?
* Why does it take rogue hackers to uncover this tax evasion? Where are all the Canada Revenue Agency and international tax auditors who are paid by the public to crack down on tax cheats? Paid and/or told to look the other way?
* We should be concerned, first and foremost, about getting the names of people on the leaked list who are Canadians. Then we need to establish if these people were involved in any illegal activity. Then we need to make sure our gov’t does the right thing as far as fixing loopholes and collecting the taxes it is due. The gov’t needs to look at all the facilitators of tax evasion, i.e. banks, lawyers, accountants, etc. And of course prosecute those individuals and institutions that broke the law.
Forget about Putin. He’s not even named.
* WikiLeaks calls for data leak to be released in full (here). What we need is this, not something manipulated by media. I really don’t know how Putin is associated with it through his “close associates”.Only Western media tell us so, but give little evidence. Ukraine president’s name is on the list but no media makes anything out of it. So the media here are too political charged, I have no trust in them. If they don’t publish Canadian and American full name list, how do I know any of them are not relatives/associates of political leaders here? Should I trust media to tell not?
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