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The man who has called his leaking of secret government documents an act of “civil disobedience” has taken part in an MIT Media Lab symposium called Forbidden Research, about disobedience for social good.

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, turned whistleblower, and current board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation Edward Snowden appeared via video in the July 21 event. He’s been living outside the U.S. since 2013, when he leaked highly-classified NSA documents detailing government surveillance programs. The U.S. Department of Justice charged him with theft and espionage.

Snowden and author/hardware hacker Andrew “bunnie” Huang led the symposium’s opening session, Against the Law: Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance. “Law is no substitute for conscience,” Snowden said. “This is not to say laws are bad, this is not to say we don’t want new rules. But there are better guarantees, which can provide greater enforcement of individual rights. Lawful abuse is not a contradiction.”

Just before Snowden spoke, he and Huang published a joint paper on their work developing technology to help journalists protect their smartphones from being traced and compromised through their radio hardware. The “introspection engine” would monitor a device’s radio activity using a measurement tool in a phone-mounted battery case. Huang, a plaintiff in a First Amendment lawsuit filed the morning of the event, said the basic challenge of the project was how to turn a smartphone into a cyber fortress. “Think of it as a designated driver for the phone. Journalists shouldn’t have to be cryptographers to be safe. I want them to be able to go and meet with their sources, leave the fortress if they have to, and not have to worry about their phones being a vector for their capture.”

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