Snowden: US and UK 'screwed all of us'

Snowden: US and UK 'screwed all of us'
© Getty Images

The U.S. and United Kingdom governments “screwed all of us” when they broke into a cellphone chip producer and took information allowing them spy on phones worldwide, said Edward Snowden during a reddit “Ask Me Anything” session on Monday.

Documents released last week, but leaked by Snowden in 2013, revealed U.S. and UK spies had digitally infiltrated the network of Gemalto — a Dutch company that makes cellphone chips, or SIM cards, for major cellphone service providers — and stole keys that allowed them to potentially decrypt the cellphone communications of billions of people.

ADVERTISEMENT

“They not only screwed the manufacturer, they screwed all of us, because the only way to address the security compromise is to recall and replace every SIM sold by Gemalto,” said Snowden.

Each year, Gemalto makes two billion SIM cards, which help encrypt data on cellphones.

The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor was fielding questions alongside filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald, the team behind the Snowden documentary CITIZENFOUR, which took home the Oscar for best documentary on Sunday night.

Snowden said the Gemalto hack is “more significant” than recent reports the NSA ws reprogramming the firmware of hard drives at dozens of top manufacturers, giving it the ability to spy on and attack countless computers.

“Although firmware exploitation is nasty, it's at least theoretically reparable: tools could plausibly be created to detect the bad firmware,” he said. ”This isn't the same for SIMs.”

The U.S. and United Kingdom have endangered a common form of communication with their actions, Snowden added.

“Our governments — particular the security branches — should never be weighing the equities in an intelligence gathering operation such that a temporary benefit to surveillance regarding a few key targets is seen as more desireable [sic] than protecting the communications of a global system," he said.

Snowden continued parenthetically, "(and this goes double when we are more reliant on communications and technology for our economy productivity than our adversaries).”