Tim Berners-Lee joins Edward Snowden onstage for virtual high-five and privacy chat

Ex-NSA contractor appeared onstage via telepresence robot, promising that there were "more revelations to come"
  • @jackpittbrooke

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made a surprise appearance last night at a TED talk in Canada. Speaking via a ‘telepresence robot’ from an unspecified location in Russia, Snowden echoed Tim Berners-Lee’s recent warning about the danger of a restricted internet.

He told the audience: “Today, if you go on to Amazon and look at a copy of 1984 the American intelligence service can see it, the British service can see it, the Russians, the French, Germany - they can all see it because its unencrypted. We need to prevent small acts like this to improve our rights and privacy around the world.” 

If we let a single standard slip… we will live in a less safe world overall; we won't be able to access our banks or have any commerce without worrying about people monitoring those communications or subverting them.”

Asked whether there were more revelations to come Snowden was unequivocal: “There are absolutely more revelations to come, I don’t think there is any question of that. Some of the most important reporting to be done is yet to come.” 

The TED talk comes just a week after Tim Berners-Lee, proclaimed father of the web, called for an internet Magna Carta: "We need a global constitution – a bill of rights," he told the press.

There was further excitement for the audience as the discussion turned to Berners-Lee’s recent declaration.

“And I believe we have Tim Berners-Lee here tonight!” said the compere, gesturing to the front row of chairs. Applause erupted as the computer scientist took to the stage, calling Snowden a hero and offering him a virtual high-five.

Tim Berners-Lee celebrated the 25th birthday of the web last week.

In return Snowden talked powerfully of his approval of Berners-Lee’s latest suggestions: “I believe that a Magna Carta for the internet is exactly what we need: we need to encode our values not just in writing but in the structure of the internet.”

This is not a left or right issue. For people who have seen and enjoyed a free and open internet it's up to us to preserve that legacy for the next generation to enjoy. If we don’t stand up to make the changes that need to be made then we’ll lose that,” said Snowden.

His closing words proved particularly well-received, with the audience leaping to their feet and cheering: “We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government," said Snowden, "we don’t have to give up our liberty to have good government, and I think by working together we can have both open government AND private lives.”

Snowden left the United States in May 2013 in order to expose the American intelligence agencies mass surveillance programme PRISM and has been in Russia since July of the same year. Since then, the former NSA employee has spoken frequently about the need for an open and free internet.

A week ago Berners-Lee made similar claims: "It's time for us to make a big communal decision," he told the BBC. "In front of us are two roads - which way are we going to go? Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more and more control - more and more surveillance? Or are we going to set up a bunch of values? Are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the World Wide Web?"