Encrypt, evade and obscure: Edward Snowden warns public

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has defended his actions during a SXSW appearance, insisting that "I'd do it again" and throwing down the gauntlet to internet users to protect their privacy using encryption and other tools. The contractor-turned-activist described how he used hard-drive encryption, routing his online traffic through Tor, and installing browser plugins to avoid tracking from companies and other organizations, to evade surveillance.

Speaking via video conference – jokingly referred to as having being routed through "7 proxies", a reference to the popular meme – Snowden argued that technology companies represented by those at SXSW should take security into their own hands.

Those behind software and services are those "who can really fix things and enforce rights through technical standards" Snowden suggested, whereas "Congress hasn't gotten to the point of legislation to protect our rights." Interviewed by Christopher Soghoian and Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Snowden called for products which encrypted end-to-end communications by default.

That, Snowden suggested, would make surveillance en-masse "at the network level" an impossibility. Rather, security services like the US' NSA and the UK's GCHQ – both heavily implicated in the leaked documents Snowden released to global press – would need to turn their attentions to specific individuals and their computer systems.

"They can't just target everyone, all the time" Snowden said.

However, users shouldn't wait until – or rely upon – those responsible for the services and apps they use to maintain their privacy. Instead, he argued that everybody should encrypt their storage, in case of theft or accidental loss.

Meanwhile, plugins for browsers like Ghostery can be used to identify – and selectively block – individual trackers active during browsing sessions. Finally, Snowden recommended routing traffic through a service like Tor, which bounces requests via multiple servers across the globe to avoid location data being exposed.

Tor is also working on a secure messaging app, dubbed the Tor Instant Messaging Bundle, for release this year.