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Snowden offers some tweaks to improve Twitter

NSA whistleblower offered the social network some advice as he took questions on Twitter's live-streaming app Periscope about privacy.


Edward Snowden chatting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey via the social network's Periscope app.

Terry Collins/CNET

Edward Snowden offered the world details of US mass surveillance programs. Now, he's offering Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey his thoughts on the social network.

In a video chat on Tuesday, Snowden said he uses Twitter in a "crude" way, in part to keep other tweeters safe. He searches for information he's interested in but doesn't follow other accounts, except for @NSAgov. The reason: following other users might prompt US authorities to take an interest in them.

"I don't think that would be fair to everybody that I'm following and interested in," he said.

In addition to his thoughts on Twitter, the NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower touched on familiar themes during the hour-long chat. He called on citizens to push for limits on the power governments have to conduct mass surveillance. He also urged computer scientists to develop new encryption techniques that mask where data comes from.

Snowden briefly touched on fake news, the outright fabrications that showed up on Facebook, Google and other websites during the election and masqueraded as real journalism. Asking the companies to police those stories -- like the one in which the Pope allegedly endorsed Donald Trump, something that didn't happen -- would only curb free speech, he said.

"The answer to bad speech is more speech," Snowden said during the interview, which was conducted on the social network's Periscope live-streaming app. Citizens and consumers, he said, should be responsible for identifying fake stories.

Snowden rocketed to international fame in 2013 when he leaked information about NSA surveillance programs, including the Prism operation that gave the US access to people's emails, video chats, photos and documents through some of the world's biggest tech companies. Silicon Valley companies including Apple, Google and Yahoo were pressured to step up their encryption and privacy efforts and eventually push back against the government on issues of spying and user data. Snowden has been in self-imposed exile in Russia in order to avoid charges he violated the Espionage Act among other laws.

The chat drew more than 132,000 people and was shown on the Twitter account of @pardonsnowden, a campaign launched in September seeking official US government forgiveness for Snowden. He wasn't paid for participating in the chat, according to Twitter.

Snowden reiterated on Tuesday that he doesn't regret his actions.

"I provided evidence of these kind of activities, these mass surveillance activities, to journalists," he told the audience. "I'd be willing to do it again."

Snowden encouraged people to contribute to civil rights organizations -- he named the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Amnesty International -- so that "the rights that generations of Americans fought for don't disappear from history."

Snowden, who has 2.54 million Twitter followers, also offered Dorsey thoughts on how to improve the social network. He said users should be able to edit and fix typos in their tweets, even if they've already been sent.

"That would provide a lot of value, but I'm not an expert," he said.

Snowden also told Dorsey links shouldn't be counted against a tweet's 140-character limit and offered ideas for improving the user experience.

"The clicking-through actions don't work. It breaks the user experience," Snowden told Dorsey, suggesting links in tweets should keep users on the platform, instead of taking them to another browser window.

After the event, he tweeted Dorsey another suggestion: