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15 Jul, 2013 19:47

'Join fight for privacy now!' Stallman on Snowden & how to escape surveillance

'Join fight for privacy now!' Stallman on Snowden & how to escape surveillance

The time to join the battle for privacy is now, because whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange can’t fight against Big Brother on their own, software freedom activist and founder of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, told RT.

Stallman says that the revelations of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who exposed secret US and British surveillance programs to the public, are a confirmation of his worst concerns - which he voiced over a decade ago.

“I am very happy that Snowden told us what the US government and some other governments are really doing,” he said in an interview with RT’s SophieCo program. “I had no proof – I’ve been saying for many years that if we look at the ‘Pa-Triot Act’ – I won’t call it ‘patriot’ because it’s as unpatriotic as you can get in a country based on an idea of freedom – I said, ‘look at this, I would guess that they are collecting all the data about everyone, regularly, fast enough so it doesn’t get erased between collections – but that was just a guess.”

But with the truth now available to the people, the activist believes that “Our cause now has more momentum. We might, maybe, be able to stop this.”

“Our freedom is at stake and this is true for people all around the world,”
he said. “I would guess that every country is increasing surveillance through digital technology to a level that is unprecedented in the world’s history.  Unless we had a great insufficiency of surveillance before, we should regard this as intolerable.”

The founder of GNU project and the Free Software Foundation urges those who are interested in winning back their privacy to start acting immediately in order to have any chance of success.

“If you want to have the possibility of some privacy someday, you’d better join the fight now, because now a bunch of other people are joining the fight. Now is the moment when you can make a difference,”
he explained. “If you wait until the day you wish you had some privacy and only then try to do something…well, that day you will be one of a few people doing it and that won’t be enough. You’ve got to help make a critical mass when other people are doing it – and that’s now.” 

Richard Stallman (Reuters)

Stallman doesn’t object to the right of authorities to investigate people who committed criminal acts, but stresses that digital surveillance on them must be initiated by a court warrant only.

Keeping a giant dossier on every single citizen gives the state a free hand because when it wants “to get somebody it can always find something to punish that person for,” he said.   

The 60-year-old activist disagrees that the actions of Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have turned them into “outcasts,” despite the fact that both of the whistleblowers are currently trapped – Snowden in Moscow’s Sheremetyvo airport and Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“Assange is not an outcast. Millions of people, including me, admire him. And Snowden is not an outcast - millions of people in the US and elsewhere admire him. Please, don’t exaggerate. They have been besieged by the empire, but not defeated,”
he said. “They decided to take these risks for our freedom. But, they can’t win by themselves. It’s up to us to carry the fight forward.”

He also expressed certainty that Snowden “will find a way to get asylum.”

The NSA leaker voiced plans to ask Russia for political asylum last week, but the country’s Federal Migration Service has not yet received a plea from him.

‘Facebook is a monstrous surveillance engine’

Stallman says that corporations and the state “work hand in hand” in the US, as the Patriot Act obliges companies to “secretly” pass data to security services.  

According to the activist, the best way to protect your information is to refrain from using “nasty” services like Facebook, which he described as “a monstrous surveillance engine.”

He added that the “malicious technology” Apple and Microsoft provide “can’t be excused if it had some good effects.”

“We’ve got to realize that, first of all, Microsoft and Apple software is proprietary. That means the users don’t control the program, rather than the program controls the users – and that’s an injustice,”
he stressed. “And the existence of proprietary, although it wasn’t for Microsoft or Apple back then, is why I started with the Free Software movement. In addition to setting things up so that they control the program and the program controls the users, they started putting in malicious functionality that spies on users and intentionally restricts users. There are even ‘back doors’ in that software, so, literally speaking, Apple and Microsoft software is malware.”  

“We call Windows 8.1 ‘Windows Prison Edition’ because it’s designed to require people to send data to Microsoft servers, and of course, Microsoft will hand over any of that data to the US government on request. It puts the users in prison,”
the activist added.

Stallman says that although many modern people have voluntarily traded their privacy for gadgets, he’s sure that “freedom is more important than innovation.”

“Companies are steering them by saying: ‘You could have this convenience, but only if you let us be nasty to you in that way.’ And yes, people who are not sensitized to the issue, they might say ‘yes,’ but there’s no fundamental reason why this convenience has to require that nastiness. It’s that a company figures that maybe they can get you to accept that nastiness by attaching it to this convenience. Now, if we had control of how things were built, we could have this convenience in most cases without that nastiness,” he explained. 

A demonstrator protests over claims from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency (Reuters / Bobby Yip)

Stallman says he doesn’t own a mobile phone because it’s a “surveillance and tracking device” which is monitoring the person’s location 24/7 and can be easily converted into a listening device by remotely installing specific software.

The activist says that even encrypted emails aren’t necessarily as private as one might think.  

“You shouldn’t trust any encryption program, unless it’s free software and the encryption is being done on your copy on your computer,” he warned. “Encryption on a server isn’t trustworthy. How do you know they’re not saving a copy before they encrypt it and giving it to the NSA?”   

Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency which is described as a tool of maintaining the privacy of transactions on the internet, “seems like a solution to some problems,” but its flaw is that it’s not totally anonymous, Stallman said.

“I think we need a payment system where the payer is anonymous. The payee doesn’t have to be anonymous, but it has to be so you can pay to access a webpage and do so anonymously,” he said. “I’m not saying we need total anonymity. We need anonymity from the one who’s paying to access the website. However, it’s okay if the website operators are not anonymous in receiving this money – after all, we want them to pay their taxes.”