The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, blamed Edward Snowden for making it more difficult for the United States to monitor and arrest potential terrorists. Clapper claimed Edward Snowden’s leaks of NSA records sped up the widespread adoption of more advanced encryption. In fact, the director said by his estimates, adoption has been sped up by about seven years. Making the comments at a breakfast for journalists that was hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Clapper added the increased adoption rates were not a net positive for the public as a whole.
When the Intercept pressed Clapper on where the information Edward Snowden’s leaks had impacted high-end encryption to such a massive degree, he said the numbers came straight from the NSA. What he didn’t say is just how the leaks had a direct effect on the speed of encryption adoption. It appears the encryption methods have sped up, and Clapper and the NSA have drawn a conclusion from data they haven’t and likely won’t release showing Edward Snowden and his leaks as the culprit.
“The projected growth maturation and installation of commercially available encryption — what they had forecasted for seven years ahead, three years ago, was accelerated to now, because of the revelation of the leaks.”
Some technology experts have hailed the arrival of the better encryption technology (whether or not it was because of Edward Snowden) because it has allowed consumers to stay better protected. There has been a massive increase in the number of hackers who are going after commercial data in the last decade, and a number of big companies, including Sony and Target, have been highly publicized victims of the hacker “arms race.” Clapper does not believe the increased safety in that regard counterbalances the increase in the degree of difficulty when it comes to surveilling people and organizations the government believes have terrorist ties.
At the same time, James Clapper admits there is no such thing as an unbreakable encryption. Clapper said given enough time and the right technology, the NSA and other intelligence agencies can eventually get the information they are looking for. It is the lost time the director of National Intelligence believes is the problem and what Edward Snowden and his leaks really cost the government.
For his part, Snowden has been keeping a low profile in the recent past, but his name has popped back up in the headlines earlier this month. Edward Snowden and his lawyers recently launched a lawsuit against Norway in an attempt to make sure the country will not extradite him to the United States. Edward Snowden has said he would love to travel to Norway in order to accept the Ossietzky Prize, but he will not attend the ceremony if there is any chance he might be arrested once he arrives. Edward Snowden hasn’t taken credit for speeding up encryption adoption in the United States, but it’s certainly not something he sees as a negative.
It’s a safe bet that the recent comments blaming Edward Snowden for his government’s struggles in surveilling suspected terrorists will once again spake the debate private citizens and the tech community have been having about the balance between safety, security, and privacy. On one side are those who believe Edward Snowden is a bonafide hero who leaked the information because he felt the people had a right to know. On the other side are people like Clapper who believe his leaks might have made people less safe in the long run. Edward Snowden made it clear once again where he stood when he tweeted shortly after news hit of Clapper’s comments, saying that of all the things he has been accused of over the years, “this is the one of which I am most proud.”
[Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]