How we take back the internet | Edward Snowden | Summary and Q&A

March 18, 2014
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How we take back the internet | Edward Snowden


In this TED Talk, Chris Anderson interviews Ed Snowden about his revelations on government surveillance and the importance of privacy and internet freedom.

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Key Insights

  • 👤 Ed Snowden emphasizes that his personal identity is not the focus, but rather the issues at hand: the type of government, the kind of Internet, and the relationship between people and societies.
  • 🔐 PRISM is a program that allows the government to compel corporations to collect and give over personal data. This is concerning as it goes beyond just metadata.
  • 🌐 Snowden urges companies to enable SSL web encryption on every page to protect user privacy and rights.
  • 💥 The NSA's program, Bullrun, intentionally misleads corporate partners and weakens the security of communications, opening America up to potential cyberattacks.
  • 🛡️ Snowden argues that the claim that surveillance is necessary for counterterrorism is unfounded, as it has not stopped any imminent attacks.
  • 🔎 Snowden believes in the need for transparency and accountability in government surveillance as well as protection of individual privacy rights.
  • 💡 Snowden suggests that in order to protect the Internet and individual freedoms, a Magna Carta for the Internet, inspired by Sir Tim Berners-Lee's proposal, needs to be created.
  • 🌍 Snowden emphasizes the importance of working together to preserve the open government and private lives that both contribute to a better society.


Chris Anderson: The rights of citizens, the future of the Internet. So I would like to welcome to the TED stage the man behind those revelations, Ed Snowden. (Applause) Ed is in a remote location somewhere in Russia controlling this bot from his laptop, so he can see what the bot can see. Ed, welcome to the TED stage. What can you see, as a matter ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Edward Snowden describe himself?

Edward Snowden describes himself as an American citizen, just like anyone else. He does not use words like "hero," "patriot," or "traitor" to describe himself.

Q: What prompted Edward Snowden to reveal classified documents to the public?

Edward Snowden was disturbed by the decisions being made in secret by the intelligence community without the public's awareness or consent. He wanted to bring these issues to light in the most responsible way possible, in order to maximize the public benefit and minimize the risks.

Q: Can Edward Snowden explain the PRISM program?

Edward Snowden explains that PRISM is a program that allows the government to compel corporate America to assist in surveillance activities. It involves accessing the content of communications, rather than just metadata. Some companies resisted this, but ultimately lost in court, leading to their cooperation with the government.

Q: How does Edward Snowden propose that internet companies protect the rights of users?

Edward Snowden suggests that internet companies should enable SSL web encryption on every page, by default, for all users. This would increase privacy and uphold the rights of individuals worldwide.

Q: What is Boundless Informant and why is it concerning to Edward Snowden?

Boundless Informant is a program by the NSA that tracks and analyzes the amount of communications being intercepted. Edward Snowden finds it concerning because it shows that more communications are being intercepted in America about Americans than in other countries. It raises questions about privacy and the role of the NSA in surveillance activities.

Q: How did the NSA violate its own rules according to a report revealed by Edward Snowden?

The NSA violated its own rules and laws thousands of times in a single year, as revealed in a report. This included incidents that affected thousands of people and the accidental interception of all calls in Washington, D.C. The report also highlighted that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee had not been aware of these violations until contacted by the media.

Q: Why should people care about surveillance if they have done nothing wrong?

Edward Snowden explains that giving up rights and privacy based on the notion of having nothing to hide is dangerous. Rights matter because they may be needed in the future, and they are part of our cultural identity. People should be able to communicate, travel, and engage in everyday activities without worrying about how they may be misinterpreted or monitored by the government.

Q: How does Edward Snowden see the future of the internet?

Edward Snowden sees the future of the internet as a vehicle for both open government and private lives. He believes that by working together, it is possible to have both good government and personal security and privacy. He looks forward to working with others to make this vision a reality.


In this TED talk, Chris Anderson interviews Edward Snowden, the man behind the revelations about government surveillance. Snowden discusses his motivations for leaking classified documents and the impact of his actions on society. He also explains the programs exposed by the leaks, such as PRISM and Boundless Informant, and their implications for privacy and national security.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Edward Snowden describe himself?

Snowden considers himself an American and a citizen, rather than using labels such as hero, patriot, or traitor. He believes that what really matters are the issues at hand, such as the type of government and Internet we want.

Q: What led Snowden to leak classified documents?

Snowden witnessed actions in the intelligence community that disturbed him. He felt that certain government programs went too far and violated the public's rights and privacy. He wanted to raise awareness and have a public debate about these issues, while minimizing the risks involved in exposing the information.

Q: Can you explain what the PRISM program is?

PRISM is a program through which the government can compel companies to cooperate in collecting and providing access to user data. It goes beyond metadata (e.g., phone records) and involves the collection of content. The program raises concerns about privacy, collaboration between the government and corporations, and the legitimacy of secret courts.

Q: How does the NSA collect data from technology companies?

The NSA's slides refer to it as "direct access." This means that the data is collected directly from the servers of tech companies such as Google and Yahoo. While some companies resisted providing access and even challenged the government in court, they ultimately lost due to the secretive nature of the proceedings.

Q: How did the NSA violate its own privacy rules?

The Washington Post reported that the NSA had violated its own rules and laws thousands of times in a single year. These violations ranged from minor to significant, affecting thousands of individuals in some cases. It is concerning that even the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee had not been aware of these violations until approached by the media, which raises questions about oversight.

Q: Why should people care about surveillance if they have nothing to hide?

Snowden argues that giving up one's rights and privacy can have unforeseen consequences. It is important to protect rights and privacy even if one believes they won't need them. Additionally, it is essential to safeguard cultural and societal values associated with privacy, such as being able to communicate with loved ones or engage in online activities without fear of misinterpretation or surveillance.

Q: What are the risks of the government undermining the security and standards of the Internet?

By weakening the security and standards of the Internet, the government not only puts the world at risk but also jeopardizes the American economy. Intellectual property and secure communications are crucial foundations for economic growth and global interconnectedness. The government's actions can expose America to cyberattacks and harm its own economy.

Q: Are there more revelations to come from Edward Snowden?

Yes, Snowden confirms that there are more revelations yet to be made. He believes that some of the most important reporting is still to come and that it will contribute to the ongoing debate about government surveillance and privacy.

Q: How does Edward Snowden cope with the fear and the potential danger he faces?

Snowden acknowledges that there are governments that want to see him dead. He emphasizes that he focuses on what he can do for the American people and believes in the power of individuals to make a difference. He remains committed to the cause and is willing to face risks for the sake of his principles.

Q: What are Edward Snowden's thoughts on a new "Magna Carta" for the Internet?

Snowden supports the idea of a "Magna Carta" for the Internet, which would encode values and principles into the structure of the Internet to ensure privacy and user rights. He invites everyone to participate in this endeavor and believes it is essential to preserve the Internet as a free and open platform.


Edward Snowden's revelations about government surveillance have sparked a global debate on privacy, government oversight, and the role of the Internet in society. Snowden's actions serve as a reminder that democracy can be jeopardized when decisions are made behind closed doors. However, he believes that through cooperation and advocacy, it is possible to have both open government and private lives. The call for a new "Magna Carta" for the Internet highlights the need to protect individual rights and freedom in the digital age.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Ed Snowden discusses his role as a whistleblower and the importance of the issues he brought to light, such as government surveillance, privacy, and the internet.

  • He describes programs like PRISM and Boundless Informant, which involve the collection of content and metadata by the NSA from internet companies and signals intelligence agencies.

  • Snowden argues for the need to protect the internet, preserve privacy rights, and work towards a more open government while still maintaining security.

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