Photograph of Neil deGrasse Tyson standing next to Edward Snowden's virtual telepresence robot, taken by Josh Bell of the ACLU.
Photograph of Neil deGrasse Tyson standing next to Edward Snowden's virtual telepresence robot, taken by Josh Bell of the ACLU.

A Conversation with Edward Snowden (Part 2)

Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed whistleblower Edward Snowden via virtual telepresence robot from Moscow. Credit: Josh Bell, ACLU.

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About This Episode

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s exclusive, one-on-one conversation with whistleblower Edward Snowden – via robotic telepresence from Moscow – concludes with a deeper dive into metadata, personal privacy and covert communications. Join us as Edward takes us further down the rabbit hole, where countries spy on their own citizens to protect them and “mere” metadata can be more intrusive and invasive than the actual content of a phone call. Decipher the differences between symmetric encryption, asymmetric encryption and secret sharing schemes. But this episode isn’t just advanced math and n-dimensional matrices – Neil and Edward leave Earth behind and dive into the wavelengths of pulsars and cosmic background radiation in search of the perfect random number generator for an ideal seed value. Plus, Neil and Edward discuss the difficulty of separating the signal from the noise, both in astrophysics and in government mass surveillance.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: A Conversation with Edward Snowden (Part 2).


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  • Devin A Whiting


  • Debra Hegdahl

    very good. whose hand is that?

    • Little Eagle

      It’s the guy on the shelf

    • Little Eagle

      It’s the guy on the shelf

    • Areti K

      I think there was someone standing on the opposite side of the ipad with wheels 🙂

  • Hi from Ottawa region, Quebec,Canada!

  • Cool Beastie Boys intro !!! My fav’

  • David Louis Molinari

    If aliens communicate in outer space and no humans are around, do they make signals or noises?

    • MH

      A signal is loosely defined as any data that you are looking for. It’s subjective nomenclature. Some guy yelling up at a window on the 3rd floor of an apartment building is a signal to the person in that apartment, but noise to the other apartments.

  • David Louis Molinari

    3 dimensional cones and sounds of 3 dimensions. Laser microphones, and satellites. With technology don’t you think our government can not only see a quarter from outer space, but also hear a bug walk across it? If yes is it not also possible with technology to also see through walls? If centralized power is able to watch and listen to the people, why are the people not able to watch and listen to centralized power? With this type of surveillance is it not easier to make a person paranoid or cut off ones head and is that in the book of revelations? The only centralized power that is not corrupted is God and secrets stem from the dark side as learned in the book of Genesis and honesty.

    • SlapOn

      go away. thx.

      • Dex Luther

        Go away, why? Because he’s right?

        • SlapOn

          right about what? the book of revelations? god? the book of genesis?
          or could it be that you only read the first sentence? seriously, try to compile a list of everything he’s “right” about and post it here. it’s gonna be fun…

    • MH

      You need a big telescope to be able to see a quarter from outer space. That’s not the kind of thing you can hide without people noticing.

      The rest of your statement doesn’t particularly follow, logically. I could just as easily claim, “The only centralized power that is not corrupted is Taco Bell, as learned in the book of Menu. It says so right here in the informational packet Taco Bell sent me, so I know it’s true.”

  • Rainbowbubbles

    You are both wonderful people.

  • Nils Molin

    Gosh, this show(s) has clarified a lot for me. Well actually I guess, more like raised new questions, but moved my understanding along several steps closer to thebig picture. Encryption’s role in privacy in re: metadata. I sure can’t help but admire Snowden for his courage. And his reasonable outrage, the basic common man’s decency recoiling at the monstrous discovery, knowing that very few would be in position& of a mind to do anything about it. You go, man! Thank you Ed, for I am very glad to know what you alone gave us as certain knowledge. This is not a fringe group’s imagination or internet rumour.

  • James

    what If I could do something that humans aren’t suppose to be able to do?

  • Marta Nowakowska

    I think I’ve got a new BroTP.

  • Phil Keener

    Mr. Snowden should be the next Speaker of the House. Seriously.

    • FiendishGOPlardass

      he should president of the world and then you’ll be safe right?

      • Math Gender

        Actually I don’t think he was being an asshole, the Speaker of the House is an individual especially conversant in the value of civil liberties with the special duty of manning the ‘moral rudder’, exemplified by Mr. Snowden; President of the World would be a liberal sociopath hell-bent on turning children into genderless Apple consumers with isopropyl porn collections, while wearing a mustard tie.

        • FiendishGOPlardass

          I agree that whistleblowers like Manning or Snowden are heros, and I join the red blooded Americans that applaud Snowden’s disclosures, and I would reward the lad if I could, but the job of Speaker of the House is the worst in DC. Why is that boring job “the moral rudder”?

  • Lol, excellent photo. #gratitude for your courage. Thank you for being brilliant!

  • SaiyanHeretic

    I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of metadata until now. (It’s the kind of thing that makes being a Luddite seem attractive.) And something that definitely resonated with me is the concept that spying on everyone indiscriminately isn’t just a distraction and waste of resources, but is actively counterproductive to the goal of efficient intelligence gathering.

  • Kilia

    Neil and Edward….welcome from Alaska. Glad you both are on Twitter.

  • Nathan Chamberlain

    I would like to point out that Mr. Snowden still uses the we pronoun to when here refers to America. I think it shows a lot about the type of person that he is. I mean think about he obviously still considers himself American after we abandoned him and were too proud to say after the fact, when we discovered that what he blew the whistle on was wrong, that what he did was the right thing. Whether it was legal or not is irrelevant to me, because he brought to light something that was beyond what the government’s job is and that was definitely the right thing to do. I understand the initial reaction of hey what you did was illegal, however, after that when we decided that what he showed us was illegal and needed to be brought to light we should have said okay you were right.

  • Jason

    A few years ago, just after the NSA revelations, my friends and I made a really awful film inspired by the revelations. In retrospect, we would laugh at this excerpt, and one of our favorite lines was when I said “Every second of every day.” To my delight, at 9:59 of this podcast, Snowden uttered those legendary words. That gave me an idea. Here’s the result:

  • zhan

    Quentico tv seris bound to be about a girl suffering at hands of intelligence, because as FBI it’s her duty to take it.

  • AuBrix

    I think We the People are still behind Ed Snowden. It’s The CONTROLLERS of Fed .gov that are after him as a traitor. He shined light on their Total Control of People Scheme/PLOT.

    • Michael Newman

      “Total Control of People Scheme/PLOT” << This is not a real thing. Over-reach of a surveillance program in violation of the constitution is one thing. Law enforcement always entails violating someone's privacy. It's a balancing act that sometimes gets off-kilter. Trying to weave it into some grand conspiracy gets you into way too many key assumptions. Also, it gives government agencies way too much credit.

      • AuBrix

        At one time I would have agreed with you but think about the following: .gov can turn on your smartphone w/o you even knowing it, can listen and activate the camera to get a view of the activity during that time, and can I.D. your location at that moment. Why is cable TV equipment designed to listen and if you use cable for your internet connection and have a camera on your computer there is the ability to activate the camera ? All “Smart” technology has been designed with backdoor tech. .gov can use to surveil the user/owner.
        Read your paperwork that comes with any “Smart ” technology you own . The equipment has to comply with Federal Regulations. The back door technology is installed so .gov can check if they want.
        We already know .gov does not always go to the Courts for Search Warrants thanks to the Patriot Act. Executive Orders have made “We the People” an ENEMY in .gov’s mind.
        These are just tips of the iceberg .gov is floating by the People. DYODD – Do Your Own Due Diligence.

  • Betty

    Thanks for dropping the comedian . I wish you would drop it from all your star talk shows Very distracting.

    • Betty, our “Conversation with…” episodes are usually one-on-one between Dr. Tyson and a guest. But never fear, comic co-hosts are an integral part of our formula, and we have no plans to change that at all. Tonight’s episode, in fact, features Dr. Tyson and Chuck Nice. So rest assured the distractions will continue.

  • FiendishGOPlardass

    Is this about “our expectations of privacy”, as Ed says, or is it about the ABSENCE of our expectations of privacy? Has domestic spying not been going on since WW2? Does government [DOJ primarily] not have the tacit approval of the People, not just the presidents, one after the other since WW2? Are the so called passive ‘silent majority’ unaware of all this – or are they not only aware but fine with it? Read “Untold History of the US” by Kuznick and Stone. then go back to the start. Read the debates on the Proposed Constitution [1787-91]. I dont think America was ever much more than an oligarchy, but find out, see for yourself.

  • FiendishGOPlardass

    ps Wowl!! Great show!!

  • When Tyson asked Snowden about hiding messages so they don’t look like messages at all, I was surprised that Snowden didn’t bring up a method that’s been around for quite some time, i.e.”steganography – the practice of concealing a file, message, image, or video within another file, message, image, or video.” (Wikipedia). Just imagine one of those 10 hr YouTube videos, especially one with a lot of cuts, where one single frame, and only part of it, contains a coded message. One could even make it look like a digital defect in the video.

    I’ve also run across (not the actual communications, but the idea) of using other platforms to communicate, such as the chat function in World of Warcraft.

    There’s also the idea of using extremely personal experiences as codes for something else. This is a real, real simple example, but if you wanted to tell someone where to meet you in the mall, you could say “You remember that thing we ate last night for desert?” with the unspoken answer being Apple pie and the implied location being the Apple store. Again, basic example, but if you elaborate the concept, you could develop a system of communicating whereby the key is only known to the parties that share those experiences. Parents do this all the time when they want to talk about something in front of their kids that they don’t want the kids to know about. I don’t know if this is accurate, but I think it could be called memetic encryption. I think this is the solution method for the Ricky McCormick letters on the FBI website. As an elaborate example, I came across a sci-fi story once that used this concept as its premise in that a movie watched within the story was laced with references to personal experiences only known to a single viewer and served as instructions for a mission to an agent operating as an undercover agent of change in the distant past. Pure silliness but an interesting idea!

  • Synthetic1

    How is it good that Snowden released “millions of pages” of information, which he obviously, because “millions” is a big number, never read, did not know the content and could not understand the content? On this single point, let’s hear from Snowden’s supporters.

    Second point: If goverment continuously collects trillions of points of data, then goverment does not have the resources to view that data even after it has been “scrubbed” with filters. The primary use of the data is to go back in time once security breaches are detected in order to understand the path of events that led to the discovered breach. Otherwise, the data would not ever be used.

    Third point: The world has changed and defense strategies and tactics have changed with it. The world is no longer sparing with clearly uniformed troops operating within defined politcal borders. Increasingly, the enemy is possibly living next door. Increasingly, the enemy is a radicalized individual being spoon fed by distributed, amorphous leadership.

  • DirtyDuck

    So hard to listen to this with all the ads

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