Whistleblower Edward Snowden gave a rare public interview today at the technology mega-conference, SXSW. When asked whether we should fear surveillance from government or Google more, Snowden argued that the government is unequivocally a bigger threat. “The government has the ability to deprive you of rights,” he said in a live Interview with the ACLU, streamed through several protection measures (which made some of his answers inaudible).
Google, Facebook, and other Internet companies have aggressively expanded the kinds of data collected on their users, which helps them build better targeted ads and products that predict what users want. “Companies can surveil you to sell you products, to sell your information to other companies, and that can be bad, but you have legal recourse,” he argued. Noting, importantly, that with Internet companies, “it’s typically voluntary contracts.”
Governments, on the other hand, “have police powers, they have military powers, they have intelligence powers. They can literally kill you.”
When asked about the promises and peril of “big data,” Snowden argued that the crucial element is consent. The government often collects this data in secret.
“The bottom line is that data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent.”