Edward Snowden has a new idea to end mass domestic surveillance, but it won't be easy

Mass surveillance is a global problem and it’s time it gets a global solution.

That was the message Edward Snowden delivered when he spoke via video at a privacy forum in New York on Thursday.

Snowden’s appearance was part of the launch for a global campaign to get countries worldwide to sign a treaty to enact laws against mass surveillance, strengthen privacy, improve transparency, and protect whistleblowers that expose illegal spying.

“As we transit through a city, as we talk to our friends, as we engage with our family, as we download books online, all of these things are being tracked, are being intercepted, and are being recorded. They are being indexed in a sort of time machine that allows institutions that hold great power,” Snowden said. “They are empowering themselves at the expense of the public.”

Snowden and other privacy advocates — including Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, and Kim Dotcom — are promoting the treaty, which is called the “Snowden Treaty.” The treaty was created by experts in international law and legal experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Organisers said several countries are looking to sign the treaty, but would not reveal the names of those considering it.

One big problem the treaty is trying to address is stopping governments from creating mass surveillance programs that are billed as public safety programs, Snowden said.

“Mass surveillance, by their (US government’s) own words, has never made a ‘concrete difference’ in a single terrorism investigation in the United States,” Snowden said.

Snowden was referencing an independent review of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act last year when the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said that they did not identify “a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”

Nonetheless, Snowden acknowledged during his remarks that getting countries to agree to such a treaty will be challenging, but added that since people are now aware of the privacy problems that exist, it’s time to demand change on global scale.

“This is the beginning of work that will continue for many years…This is not a problem exclusive to the United States or the National Security Agency or the FBI or the department of Justice or any government department anywhere. This is a global problem that affects all of us. What happening here, happens in France, happens in the UK, happens in every country of every place to every person,” he said.

“We have to have a discussion. We have to come forward with proposals to come up with how we assert what our rights are, traditionally and digitally, and ensure that we can not just enjoy them, but we can protect them and rely upon them. And we count on the government to defend these rights.”

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