The National Security Agency's mass surveillance of telephone and Internet data has eroded constitutional protections and is "setting fire to the future of the Internet," Edward Snowden said.
The leaker of the documents revealing the NSA's top secret surveillance program appeared via live video chat Monday from Moscow to address the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
"The government has the ability to deprive you of rights. They have police powers, military, and intelligence powers," the former agency contractor said.
Snowden, who appeared in front of a backdrop of the Constitution, repeatedly emphasized that effective encryption is the key way to protect people against what he said were government surveillance abuses.
"Encryption does work. It's the defense against the dark arts in the digital realm," he said.
Snowden said that technology also needs to be developed to enable ordinary people to effectively use encryption, something he called the "Glenn Greenwald test," referring to the journalist who originally broke the story in June and who was initially unable to open the documents Snowden sent to him.
Snowden said that the NSA surveillance was so massive and unfocused, the world became less safe because the government was less able to focus on suspected terrorists, such as the Boston Marathon bombers whom the United States had been warned about by Russian intelligence.
"We have had tremendous intelligence failures because we are monitoring the Internet and everybody's communications instead of suspects' communications."
He also said that the NSA's approach to surveillance came at the expense of protecting the data it had obtained. He named NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and former agency director Michael Hayden as primarily responsible for harming U.S. national security.
"America has more to lose than anyone else," he said. "When you are the one country in the world who has a vault that is more full than anyone else's, it doesn't make sense to attack all day and not to defend it, or to set the standards for a vault worldwide but to have a back door that anyone can walk into."
Snowden added that the government believed it could "spy on everyone in the world at once, but the reality is that when they did it they found out it didn't work."
"Two independent White House investigations have found it has no value at all."
Snowden also said there is a major failure in oversight and accountability of public officials who were "cheering for the NSA."
Snowden said he had no regrets about the disclosures and would do it again.
"When I came public with this, it wasn't so I could single-handedly change the government. Tell them what to do and override what the public thinks is proper. What I wanted to do was to inform the public so they could make a decision and provide their consent about what we should be doing," he said.
"The result has been the public has benefited, the government has benefited, and every society in the world has benefited. We live in a more secure place, with more secure communications, and have better civic interaction as a result of understanding what's being done."
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