Donald Trump famously called mass surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden a traitor and promised that if he became president, he would negotiate for Snowden's return from Russia with Putin. And in at least one interview Trump threatened to treat Snowden the way America treated traitors "in the good old days when we were a strong country," which is to say, execute him.
And now Trump is our president-elect. So when Snowden participated in a video conference interview today hosted by Dutch search engine StartPage (which emphasizes the privacy of your searches), everybody wanted to know what Snowden thought of Trump's election.
People might be surprised to discover that Snowden was neither quaking in his boots, nor was he actually openly contemptuous of Trump, despite what Trump may think of him.
From Snowden's perspective, the issue of data privacy and protection is much, much bigger than whoever gets picked to hang out in the Oval Office. America is not the alpha and omega of privacy rules and intrusive government surveillance.
"What we need to start thinking about now is not how to defend against a President Trump, but how defend people everywhere," Snowden said. If the president of the United States is not open or is even actively hostile to protecting tech privacy, then it falls upon private citizens and the tech sector to work out other solutions. "We could guarantee through technology. This election reminds us that capability is within our reach, and we don't just have the right to try, but a duty."
He reminded the audience that when President Barack Obama ran for office, he promised that there would be surveillance reform, and that didn't really happen until Snowden gave the public the information necessary to force the issue. "We should be cautious to put too much faith or fear in the work of elected officials. At the end of the day, this is just the president."
His suggestion given the increased government approval of surveillance tools (not just in the United States, but in Europe as well) that consumers looks for particular companies that are willing to protect data privacy with tools like end-to-end encryption and not just hope for politicians to fix the problem. "This will only be the work of the people," he explained. "Politicians do what they think will gain them support." He also encouraged listeners to support and donate to causes and expert groups that educate and fight (and sue) for tech privacy.
As for what comes next for Snowden, he said he wasn't worried too much, though he's very aware of the relationship between Trump and the Russian government. But Russia has declared Snowden to be a human rights defender and they have a policy of not extraditing such people.
If Snowden did end up being forced back home against his will he still said he was proud of what he had done, and if he was concerned about his safety, he never would have left his job in Hawaii to blow the whistle in the first place.
"I have more ability to change the world for the better today than when I was working for the NSA," he said. "I can give a voice to the side of the NSA that's forbidden from speaking."
Below, watch Nick Gillespie's interview with Snowden back in February: