Wary of Privacy Issues? Ditch Dropbox and Avoid Google, Says Edward Snowden

Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden's new refugee documents granted by Russia is seen during a news conference in Moscow August 1, 2013. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Government whistleblower Edward Snowden gave the public a few words of wisdom, and caution, during a Saturday night video interview for The New Yorker Festival. During the hour-long conversation with The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, Snowden advised viewers to get rid of Dropbox, and to avoid using high-profile online services such as Facebook and Google, if they wanted to protect their privacy in the ever-more-informed Information Age.

During an audience Q&A, Snowden that people should "search for encrypted communication services" because they "enforce your rights." He advised the public to be wary of online services that are “hostile to privacy,” specifically Facebook and Google and cloud storage service Dropbox. Snowden suggested using high-security alternative storage services like SpiderOak, which encrypts files, although he was careful to mention that much of the technology the public needs hasn't been invented or popularized yet. 

Snowden also advised Americans to not send unencrypted texts via cell phones, and turn to secure services like Silent Circle and RedPhone. Even with increased encryption and security, Snowden insisted that no phone, even those running Apple's latest version of iOS, is entirely safe from third-party intrusion. Major cell phone providers, including Verizon, AT&T and Apple, can be subpoenaed, and authorities can still request warrants that will grant them access to their suspect’s phones.

When asked, Snowden said he has never regretted the leak of National Security Agency documents that made him a household name. He specified that the leak was not so much about changing policy, but about opening up the discussion about privacy and government intervention to the public. Snowden also said several times that the public must focus on championing political reform for a "better, safer and more free society." 

Snowden won’t be returning to the U.S. anytime soon. “I would love to [present my case to the jury], but they declined,” he said of the U.S. government. He told Mayer that during government negotiations, he hadn’t yet been offered to stand fair trial in the United States the way that Dan Ellsberg was after the former military analyst leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971. 

When prompted by Mayer, Snowden conceded the irony of fleeing to both Russia and China, two nations not exactly touted for their human rights policies. He said said that Moscow was actually a transition point in his travels to Latin America, but the State Department froze his passport along the way. Snowden revealed that he is currently working on a grant in Moscow for the benefit of journalists working in sensitive areas, but didn’t disclose too many details about the project. 

Throughout the interview, Snowden was collected and humble. When an audience member called him a hero during a later Q&A session, he said: “I appreciate the support that everyone’s given me, but it’s important to remember that I’m an ordinary guy. I’m not a hero.”

Mayer also shared the trailer for Laura Poitras’ upcoming film about Snowden, Citizen Four, which will be released on October 24.

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