Snowden: Encryption may make it more difficult to find signs of alien life

Edward Snowden

While scientists are preparing to begin a massive search for alien life, Edward Snowden has said that an increase in encrypted communications could mean that if there is any extraterrestrial life out there, it may never find us.

Appearing on Neil deGrasse Tyson's StarTalk podcast, Snowden explained that as we continue to encrypt more and more of our data and communications, any alien life trying to contact us may end up overlooking our radio signals as nothing more than background noise.

"Let's say all societies that have open communications... eventually discover they need to encrypt their communications to protect them," he told deGrasse Tyson.

And if the communication is properly encrypted, you wouldn't actually be able to tell that there even is an encryption, which would mean you wouldn't be able to "distinguish a properly encrypted communication from random behaviour".

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

What we may end up hearing, whether it be an alien TV show or a phone, would be "indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation".

In response, deGrasse Tyson pointed out that encryption would only be a problem for an extraterrestrial society if you assume "they have the same security problems as us".

Encryption may not end up being an issue, however, as the scientist-led Breakthrough Initiative aims to send out messages (which we assume will be unencrypted) via two of the world's most powerful telescopes in hopes of making contact with extraterrestrial life.

Via Quartz