Thanks to encryption, we may never spot space aliens says Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden says encryption will make Earth and Earthlings invisible to extraterrestrials

The anti-encryption lobby has just got a new fan. After the government agencies, who are against encryption for obvious reasons, Edward Snowden has spoken out against encryption albeit for a different reason altogether.

Edward Snowden, the US government whistleblower, feels that encoding may make it hard or even impossible to recognize signals from alien species from cosmic background radiation.

Snowden on Friday night appeared on the astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk podcast from Moscow, via a robot video link called a “beam remote presence system”.

In 2013, Snowden leaked classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The information revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. The documents were leaked to media outlets including the Guardian.

On June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed charges against Snowden of two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property. On June 23, he flew to Moscow, Russia, where he reportedly remained for over a month. Later that summer, Russian authorities granted him a one-year temporary asylum which was later extended to three years. As of 2015, he was still living in an undisclosed location in Russia while seeking asylum elsewhere.

In a frank interview with Tyson, Snowden said that following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, he signed up for the US army.

“It took a very long time for me to develop any kind of skepticism at all even to the most over-extended claims of the extension of programs or policies [by the US security services],” he said.

During the course of the conversation, it turned to the likelihood that data encoding may be making it difficult to interrupt communications from aliens.

“If you look at encrypted communication, if they are properly encrypted, there is no real way to tell that they are encrypted,” Snowden said. “You can’t distinguish a properly encrypted communication from random behaviour.”

Continuing on this, Snowden said that as human and alien societies get more complex and shift from “open communications” to encoded communication, the signals being broadcast will rapidly stop looking like identifiable signals.

“So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations,” he said, “or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there’s only one small period in the development of their society when all their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means.”

Snowden later said that alien messages would be so encoded that it would deliver them unidentifiable, “indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation”. Human race in that case would not be even aware that it had got such communications.

“Only,” Tyson replied jovially, “if they have the same security problems as us.”

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Kavita Iyer
Kavita Iyer
An individual, optimist, homemaker, foodie, a die hard cricket fan and most importantly one who believes in Being Human!!!


  1. I know Snowden is a smart guy, way smarted than me. However, I don’t agree with his opinion on this matter. Not all communications are encrypted, and there are some that never will be encrypted, such as FM radio. The first radio broadcast was in 1910, so even if for some reason FM was encrypted tomorrow (which can’t happen for obvious reasons), there would still be almost 100 years of radio that ETs could intercept. So, the eavesdropping ETs get 100 years of communications, then all of the sudden silence, or random encrypted patterns. If they are an inter-stellar traveling species, they are still going to be intrigued (one would assume that an ultra-advanced civilization is extremely science-minded) and would maybe stop by to study the source of the signals. Even if they wouldn’t be able to break encryption methods, they would probably still be able to tell that it was some type of communication. But I don’t know, I don’t have the credentials to disprove Snowden, only my layman’s opinion.

    • That’s right, but if they don’t understand our language it will be like it’s encrypted for them anyway.

      I may be wrong, but I think the main point of Snowden’s opinion is that almost all communication is encrypted, and encrypted sounds like garbage it’s hard to distinguish between our garbage and their garbage… right? I mean, if you intercept a communication that it’s encrypted and you don’t know where did it come from how would you know if it’s a communication from other civilization or ours?

  2. Even if you encrypt the content of your messages, you still have to cover such communication into protocols. Such protocols are identified by common sequences (like simple start/stop sequences) and even more characteristics (multiple frequencies, error correction etc). Thus, I believe that encryption is not hiding the evidence for communication, only it’s content.


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