Edward Snowden defended the importance of encryption, calling it the "backbone of computer security."
 
"Encryption saves lives. Encryption protects property," the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor said during a debate with CNN's Fareed Zakaria that aired Sunday.
 
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"Without it, our economy stops. Our government stops. Everything stops."
 
Snowden, who previously leaked documents revealing the extent of the NSA's surveillance program, said we are in the midst of the "greatest crisis in computer security in history."
 
He said computer security bumped terrorism out of the top spot on our list of national security threats. 
 
"Our intelligence agencies say computer security is a bigger problem than terrorism, than crime, than anything else," he said.
 
He called encryption a "field of mathematics."
 
"No matter how much we might hope otherwise, math is math. It works the same for Mother Teresa as it does for Osama bin Laden," he said.
 
"Lawful access to any device or communication cannot be provided to anybody without fatally compromising the security of everybody."
 
He also added that for the government to unlock everything, there has to be a key to everything.
 
"We can pass a law to require a key under every doormat in order to make things easier for police, but the problem is that every other person in the world can find that key, too, and they can use it," he said.
 
Former NSA Director Michael Hayden said America is more secure and safer with "unbreakable end to end encryption," Snowden said.
 
I can promise you ... one thing: If I am standing shoulder to shoulder with the director of the National Security Agency on something," Snowden said, "there's a damn good reason for that."