Edward Snowden At LibrePlanet 2016

The infamous NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, kicked off this year’s LibrePlanet conference via video chat from Russia – which was done entirely using free software. For those interested, Jitsi Meet was used.

In a recap of the first day at LibrePlanet, it was noted that even before Snowden was finished being introduced, “the room broke out into clapping and a standing ovation” and that Snowden’s response to such a display was “clear emotion by thanking the community for creating free software”.

He credited many projects such as Debian, Tor, Tails, and GnuPG as software he relied on, “What happened in 2013 would not have been possible without free software”. Snowden said that he didn’t use Windows because of the possibility that it had backdoors in it.

“I didn’t use Microsoft machines when I was in my operational phase, because I couldn’t trust them. Not because I knew that there was a particular back door or anything like that, but because I couldn’t be sure.”

Snowden remarked at the critics of the NSA revelations – those who said things like “we already suspected they were doing that” – saying, “But we didn’t know – we knew it was possible – [but] we didn’t know it was actually happening. Now we know, and now we can start to make changes. We can integrate these threats into our threat model.”

He noted that we rely on computer systems every day – computer systems at hospitals, banks, or stores – but we increasingly can’t trust them. Speaking on systems, He described Windows 10 as “contrary to user interest”.

“It’s so contrary to user interest – where rather than the operating system working for you, you work for the operating system, you work for the manufacturer. This is not something that benefits society. This is not something that benefits the user.”

Snowden also touched on the ongoing Apple vs. FBI debacle. He said that the FBI is “basically asking [Apple] to smother the security of every American device, service, and product that’s developed here – and ultimately around the world – while it’s still in its crib.”

He then said that we shouldn’t have to rely on companies to stand up to the government for us.

Being someone who is rightly concerned with the security of software, Snowden explained that while we should not only be using encryption, but we also should be pushing out security updates as fast as possible.

“It’s not just a question of stable. Stable is important but increasingly, due to the pace of adversary offensive research [being] so fast, if our update cycles are not at least relevant to the attack speed, then we’re actually endangering people.”

Snowden also praised efforts to free low-level software like the BIOS. He also encouraged open hardware. Coreboot/Libreboot and lowRISC/RISC-V may be something that would interest those concerned with this topic.

LibrePlanet is an annual conference hosted by the Free Software Foundation for people who care about their digital freedoms, bringing together software developers, policy experts, activists, and computer users to learn skills, share accomplishments, and address challenges facing the free software movement.

You can view Snowden’s keynote here.

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