Journalist Glenn Greenwald informs about surveillance, civil liberties

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After a videoconference from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier in the day, journalist Glenn Greenwald addressed the crowd March 10 at South by Southwest Interactive via digital telecast, discussing government surveillance and individual privacy.

Snowden provided Greenwald with thousands of documents detailing the NSA’s surveillance activities on U.S. citizens before he fled the country. Greenwald said he has been sifting through the documents for the past six or seven months, and “about half” of his investigative reporting is complete. Greenwald did not feel comfortable publishing all of the documents online because he wants the information to be presented in a way to best inform and maximize the impact, he said.

“I think that the important framework here is that the presumption about secrecy has been radically reversed,” Greenwald said. “In a healthy democracy, everything in public office ought to be transparent. In very narrow cases, the things they do can be kept secret.  I’ve read top secret documents that are unbelievably boring because (government officials) have an obsession to keep everything secret.”

Micah Sifry, co-founder of Personal Democracy Media, interviewed Greenwald and allowed the audience to chime in through Twitter. Greenwald, formerly of The Guardian, will release his fifth book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State,” in the coming months.

Many of the most “shocking” and significant stories regarding surveillance have yet to be published, Greenwald said. The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other publications have “tens of thousands” of NSA documents at their disposal due to Snowden’s whistleblowing, Greenwald said.

In response to Snowden’s term, “the Glenn Greenwald test,” which references “idiot-proofing” online encryption, Greenwald said he has learned to use advanced versions of encryption tools on his devices since he is aware the government is attempting to monitor him.

“I think the barrier that people have to using encryption is more psychological than anything else,” Greenwald said. “I didn’t really perceive the value in it, but once I actually did it, I realized how incredibly easy it is. There are strides the tech community needs to make (for) these (to be) more user-friendly.”

Greenwald said there is a tendency for Americans to be dismissive of the government posing a threat to their civil liberties if one does not feel particularly targeted, which he said is “moronic.”

“I do think individuals have the principal obligation—if you’re really upset about what the NSA is doing, the question should be, ‘what should I do to stop them?’” Greenwald said. “If you want to hide what you’re saying from them, they think what you’re saying is a bad thing. The more people use encryption, the more difficult that is (for the NSA to access personal information).”

For now, Greenwald said it “would be really good symbolism” if his next trip to the U.S. was made to receive the recently announced Polk Award for his NSA and Edward Snowden coverage amid criticism from the nation’s top officials.

“I don’t just see my role as disclosing info and then walking away,” Greenwald said. “I see exposing information as a means to an end. I definitely view journalism as a tool in pursuit of political value.”