Notes
May 21, 2020

Permanent Record

Edward Snowden
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Snowden On Coding

  • All teenagers are hackers.

  • Hacking exists wherever rules do.

  • To hack a system is to get to know its rules better than the people who created it.

  • Humans are hardwired to recognise patterns.

  • To find what causes a system to collapse, you must start from the point where you spot the problem, and then trace the problem back logically.

  • Nothing inspires arrogance like a life spent controlling machines that can't criticise.

  • The major problem with creating a global disaster recovery system is that it involves a staggering number of computers dealing with duplicated data.

  • Math can accomplish what all the guns can't - keeping a secret.

  • If you figure out the right combinations, you can work miracles.

  • Become good enough to be dangerous.

  • If your input is flawed, your output will be flawed.

  • The psychological appeal of games is that the series of difficult challenges can be beaten.

  • Not even all the NSA's cryptanalysts using all the world's computing power put together could solve the 4096 and 8192-bit keys I used.

Snowden On Data

  • The most direct way of thinking about metadata is as 'activity data'.

  • An email's metadata might include; information about the computer, who it belongs to, where the email was generated, when it was generated and more.

  • The data we generate simply by living, enrich private enterprise and impoverish our private existence in equal measure.

  • To call some collected data 'relevant' because it might become relevant in the future was 'unprecedented and unwarranted'.

Snowden On Growth

  • To grow up is to realise that an increasingly unstoppable set of normalities have been imposed on you without your consent.

  • You should always let people underestimate you because when people underestimate your intelligence (and abilities), they're merely pointing out their vulnerabilities.

  • You aren't really an adult until you bury a parent, or become one yourself.

  • The best account someone can ever give of themselves is a pledge - a pledge to the principles they value, and to the vision of whom they hope to become.

  • Dunbar estimated that you can only maintain 150~ meaningful relationships in life.

  • Say what you want. Say who you are. Never be ashamed.

  • Just be curious, and let the other person talk.

  • The best way to find something is to stop looking for it.

  • Nothing is more challenging than living with a secret that can't be spoken.

  • No matter the particular course the water travels from its source, it still ultimately arrives at the same destination.

  • I could hardly trust anyone, so I had to trust everyone.

  • The way to make people trustworthy is to trust them - Hemmingway.

Snowden On NSA Surveillance

  • FOXACID was the codename for the NSA servers that host malware versions of websites.

  • EGOTISTICALGIRAFFE was the NSA program intended to exploit a vulnerability in certain website browsers running Tor.

  • PRISM enabled the NSA to collect data from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and more. Data collection included; emails, photos, search engine queries and more.

  • PRISM was the codename for collection from the service of service providers.

  • UPSTREAM was the codename for direct collection from Internet infrastructure.

  • Imagine that you enter a URL into a browser. During its travel to the site, it will pass through TURBULENCE, one of the NSA's most potent weapons.

  • TURMOIL handles passive collection. You can think of this as a guard stationed at an invisible firewall through which traffic must pass. The traffic's metadata will be checked for selectors (at the NSA's discretion) which the NSA finds suspicious.

  • The president's surveillance program empowered the NSA to collect telephone and internet communications between the United States and abroad.

  • STELLAR WIND was the codename given for the bulk collection initiative.

  • TURBINE handles active collection. Your web request will be passed to TURBINE if it is marked as suspicious by TURMOIL. Then one of the agency's algorithms will decide which malware programs (exploits) to use against you.

  • OPTIC NERVE was the codename for GCHQ's (UK) program that saved a snapshot every five minutes on the cameras of peoples phones and more.

Snowden On Politics

  • Embassies serve as a platform for espionage.

  • Even the most advanced democracies were afraid of incurring the wrath of the US.

  • Any government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of its citizens has virtually ceased to be a democracy.

  • The freedom of a country can only be measured by its respect for its citizens' rights.

  • Something that can be devastating for the public is often beneficial for the elites.

  • What China is doing publicly to its own citizens, America might be doing secretly.

  • The Union Census of the Soviet Union (1926) had a secondary plan beyond a simple count, that being to overtly query Soviet citizens about their nationality.

  • Every language demonstrates its culture's relationship to power by how it chooses to define the act of disclosure.

  • If you don't cut off a foreign intelligence officer, it might not matter whether you reject their offer. As they can destroy your reputation by leaking a recording.

Snowden On Privacy Issues

  • The system of near-universal surveillance has been set up without our consent.

  • Everybody's communications contain evidence of something.

  • The privacy of your data depends on the ownership of it. There is no property less protected, and yet no property more private.

  • Privacy means something to everyone. There is no one to whom it means nothing.

  • To surrender your own privacy is to submit everyones.

  • Saying that you don't care about privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different from saying you don't care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.

  • You can't appreciate how hard it is to stay anonymous online until you've tried to operate as if your life depended on it.

  • Encryption is the only real protection against surveillance.

  • Encryption algorithms are basically a set of math problems designed to be challenging to solve, even for computers.

  • Breaking a 128-bit key would take fifty-million billion years.

  • The best means for keeping keys safe is called 'zero-knowledge'.

  • Imagine a Google-type program which instead of showing public Internet search results, returns your private email, private chats, personal files and everything.

  • Unfortunately, you will likely become a victim of your own curiosity.

  • Awareness alone is not enough.

  • We must ensure that the records of our past can't be turned against us.

  • Predictability is actually manipulation.

Snowden On Privacy Laws

  • When every law is always enforced, everyone is a criminal.

  • If you ever get out of line, your private life can be used against you.

  • Everyone has some compromising information buried among their bytes. This information is now being stored by the US government.

  • The NSA's surveillance programs completely disregarded the Fourth Amendment.

  • The NSA maintained that because you had already shared your phone records with a third party, that you had forfeited any constitutional privacy interest.

  • Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which amended Section 215 to explicitly prohibit the bulk collection of phone records of Americans.

  • 50%~ of the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments) are intended to make the job of law enforcement harder. The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth amendments are deliberately designed to hamper the government's ability to exercise its power.

  • In the US data is regarded as the property of whoever collects is. In the EU data is considered to be the property of the person it represents.

Snowden On Surveillance

  • If all people want to do online is to tell their friends what they're up to. Well, all companies have to figure out how to put themselves in between those social exchanges to profit.

  • If government surveillance turns citizens into subjects, then corporate surveillance turns consumers into a product.

  • Intelligence community contracting is a loophole. It's a hack that lets agencies circumvent federal caps on hiring.

  • Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA are known as the Five Eyes.

Snowden On Technology

  • Smartphones have more computing power than all of the wartime machinery of the Reich and the Soviet Union combined.

  • Our devices are miniature census takers that remember everything and forgive nothing.

  • Every wireless divide has a globally unique identifier called a MAC (Machine Address Code), this leaves a record on every access point it connects to. Essentially, this is a forensic marker of its user's movements.

  • Deletion has never existed in the way that we conceive it.

  • To refuse to inform yourself about the essential operation and maintenance of the equipment you depend on is to passively accept tyranny and agree to its terms.

Snowden On The Internet

  • The internet of today is unrecognisable.

  • The internet is not a single entity, although we tend to refer to it as if it were.

  • As the millennium approached, the online world became increasingly centralised.

  • The World Wide Web might have been invented in Geneva (CERN), but how the World Wide Web is accessed is as American as baseball.

  • 90%~ of the world's Internet traffic passes through infrastructure and software developed, owned, or operated by American businesses and governments.

  • Tor was a creation of the state, and it ended up becoming one of the few effective shields against surveillance from the government.

  • The first Tor server that connects you to the network (gateway) knows you're sending the request, but it can't read it. The final Tor server that your request passes through (exit) knows what's being asked, but no idea who's asking for it.

  • China's firewall was domestically censorious. It intended to keep its citizens in and America out in the most demonstrative way.

  • The cloud is simply a storage mechanism that ensures that your data is being processed or stored on a range of different servers. The result is that your data is no longer yours. It's controlled by companies, which can use it for any purpose.

  • In 2016 more web traffic was encrypted than unencrypted.