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Bill Gates on Edward Snowden: “You Won’t Find Much Admiration From Me”

Future of journalism flies into rage
US News • Views: 20,457

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Rolling Stone’s interview with Bill Gates is interesting, not least because he makes some comments about NSA leaker Edward Snowden that have thrown our pal The Mighty Greenwald into a fine rage: Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview.

Do you think some of these concerns people have are overblown?

There’s always been a lot of information about your activities. Every phone number you dial, every credit-card charge you make. It’s long since passed that a typical person doesn’t leave footprints. But we need explicit rules. If you were in a divorce lawsuit 20 years ago, is that a public document on the Web that a nosy neighbor should be able to pull up with a Bing or Google search? When I apply for a job, should my speeding tickets be available? Well, I’m a bus driver, how about in that case? And society does have an overriding interest in some activities, like, “Am I gathering nuclear-weapons plans, and am I going to kill millions of people?” If we think there’s an increasing chance of that, who do you trust? I actually wish we were having more intense debates about these things.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, who has leaked tens of thousands of NSA documents, we are. Do you consider him a hero or a traitor?

I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn’t characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of “OK, I’m really trying to improve things.” You won’t find much admiration from me.

Even so, do you think it’s better now that we know what we know about government surveillance?

The government has such ability to do these things. There has to be a debate. But the specific techniques they use become unavailable if they’re discussed in detail. So the debate needs to be about the general notion of under what circumstances should they be allowed to do things.

It’s difficult, though, because no one knows really what’s going on. We want safety, but we also want privacy.

But even in abstract - let’s say you knew nothing was going on. How would you feel? I mean, seriously. I would be very worried. Technology arms the bad guys with orders of magnitude more [power]. Not just bad guys. Crazy guys. Fertilizer wasn’t too good for the federal building in Oklahoma City, but there’s stuff out there now that makes fertilizer look like a joke.

If you’ve followed this saga at all, you can probably imagine how Glenn Greenwald (aka Edward Snowden’s publicist) reacted to that. The mere suggestion from a famous personality that Snowden isn’t a hero for the ages is enough to provoke a torrent of insults and sarcasm from the Mighty G, every time.

I think Glenn feels hurt that he didn’t get Bill Gates’s approval.

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