NSA whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden took part in his first public debate on encryption on Tuesday night, facing off against CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a journalist and author known for his coverage of international affairs.

Zakaria, in New York, defended the government’s right to access any and all encrypted messages and devices as long as there’s court approval. Snowden, speaking over a live video-link from Moscow, argued the security of the Internet is more important than the convenience of law enforcement. The debate was organized by NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and the Century Foundation.

Though Zakaria started off firm in his conviction that law enforcement should be able to get hold of all digital messages with court approval, he gradually conceded that it may not be that simple. Zakaria said he himself doesn’t actively encrypt any of his communications, assuming everything will be fine — though Snowden pointed out that, since he has an iPhone, some of his data and communications are encrypted by default.

Zakaria opened the debate by posing a hypothetical: Bank of America creates an “iVault” allowing anyone to store all their financial data totally encrypted. An embezzler could take advantage of that service to hide the evidence of their misdeeds, foiling investigators. “I understand within a democracy, you have to sacrifice liberty for democracy at some point. You cannot have an absolute zone of privacy,” he said.

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