Woz: Snowden is a hero and Apple is the purest of all

Speaking at CeBit in Germany, Apple's co-founder says he understands why some think Edward Snowden is a traitor, but he's not one of them. Moreover, he believes Apple is the purest of all the tech companies.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
Speaking from the heart, as always. Bloomberg News/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I don't want to go all Apple vs. Microsoft on you, but we have a national security situation.

The eminences grises of these two famous companies have come out on opposing sides of one of today's great political debates.

Earlier this week, Microsoft's Bill Gates told Rolling Stone of Edward Snowden: "I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn't characterize him as a hero."

Just in case you didn't quite get what he was saying, he added: "You won't find much admiration from me."

However, on Thursday, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak seemed brimming with admiration.

As the Times Of India reports, he was speaking at the CeBit conference in Germany and offered this perspective: "He is a hero to me, but he may be a traitor to other people and I understand the reasons for them to think that way."

Why, then, should the NSA whistle-blower be seen as today's Robin Hood of information?

Woz continued: "I believe that Snowden believed, like I do, that the US has a right to freedom. He had the guts to and courage to sacrifice his life for a principle."

I had thought that it wasn't just the US that had a right to freedom. The people of, say, Russia might like to enjoy that right too. Moreover, it's unclear yet whether Snowden has truly sacrificed his life.

He might, one day, return to a hero's welcome and a regular late-night talk show: "The Truth Show With Edward Snowden." I fancy CNN might immediately pick that up.

Woz, though, believes that the jury is already in when it comes to Snowden's actions. He's previously voiced his support -- and his own feelings of guilt about the technology of which he was a creator being used for nefarious purposes.

In Germany, however, he said of Snowden: "He has been vindicated and there have been illegal judgments and the NSA, and by the way, we have other three-letter agencies like the CIA and FBI, and they are probably doing similar things. They cover up those loopholes, and they are in violation with our Constitution."

Perhaps predictably, Woz was then asked whether Apple might have been helpful -- inadvertently or not -- to the NSA. Was there, indeed, a covert backdoor through which the NSA operatives could enter, take off their muddy wellington boots, sit down, and survey everyone there?

Woz said he couldn't be sure. But his first instinct is not to believe that Apple would be complicit.

He said: "I believe Apple is the purest of all of the companies, and it will strive to protect its customers' data."

It's hard to be a corporation and to be pure. Just as it's hard to work for the NSA and do things that you don't think everyone else should know.

We all have more than a tinge of hypocrisy at our core. How we're judged often depends on whether we're at least aware of it, or whether we have enough skills to hide it.

When the history is written and we all accept that everyone is spying on everyone -- yes, just like in early 20th century village life -- finding purity may be a thankless task.