An unlikely Twitter exchange between NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and “The Wire” creator David Simon drew attention on Sunday, as the pair debated privacy and surveillance techniques.
The conversation started with a tweet from Snowden, who was responding to a New York Times article that highlighted the use of “burner” mobile phones in last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
Burner phones are disposable mobile phones purchased with cash and used without a contract. Such phones make it easy for criminals to use them for illegal activities and dispose them when the phone — and the phone number associated with it — become to risky to use.
The article detailed a 55-page report from French antiterrorism police that described dozens of throwaway phones being found as authorities retraced the suspects’ paths outside the Bataclan concert hall, soccer stadium and restaurant where the attacks occurred.
Snowden jokingly referred to the report’s emphasis on burner phones by remarking on Simon’s popular TV series, which commonly featured burner phones as a way to cover up characters’ drug deals.
“‘The Wire’ (2002) is helping the terrorists. David Simon wanted for questioning,” Snowden tweeted.
Snowden’s remark was a response to the common criticism that Snowden “helped terrorists” by leaking thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists.
Although Simon’s Twitter handle hadn’t been tagged, Simon quickly pointed out that the mass surveillance techniques Snowden so famously opposed would allow authorities to access metadata before the phones are discarded.
From there, the conversation spiraled into a debate on the differences between drug dealers’ and transnational terrorists’ use of burner phones, and the importance of certain types of surveillance techniques and the extent to which they should be used.
While Simon argued that surveillance is important to criminal investigations, Snowden rebutted that the government has a record of abusing authority and violating citizens’ privacy. Simon commended Snowden’s reveal of the NSA’s domestic spying practices, but ultimately lamented the release of documents pertaining to international spying, which he said was the CIA and NSA’s primary job.
In addition, Simon called into question the juxtaposition between Snowden’s fears of a surveillance state with his statements that domestic spying programs haven’t been successful.
After trading more than 20 tweets back and forth, the two agreed to disagree and wrapped up the debate politely.
The conversation gained so much traction, Twitter curated it into its “Moments” collection. It’s worth reading the whole thing:
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