The biggest name in information security in 2013 has made two new appearances in recent days.
Firstly, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden praised a legal ruling over the NSA’s collection of American citizens’ phone calls. In a statement published by the New York Times
, Snowden said that he believed that that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts.
He said: “Today, a secret program authorised by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
The statement followed a legal ruling by Federal District Court judge for the District of Columbia, Richard J. Leon, who ruled yesterday that the NSA program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution.
In a 68-page ruling
, Judge Leon said that he could not “imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analysing it without prior judicial approval”.
He said that such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that was enshrined in the Fourth Amendment (which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures), and said that the Government had failed to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive”.
In that case, it was a rare PR effort for Snowden to comment on a story that was in reflection to his work, especially as this was a story from this week. Judge Leon, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, has caused the first significant legal setback for the NSA’s surveillance program since it was disclosed in June, according toPolitico
. The Government did not comment on it as the ruling was issued just before the White House daily press briefing, while Department of Justice spokesman Andrew Ames said: “We are reviewing the court’s decision.”
Elsewhere, Snowden made another statement
saying that he would be willing to help the Brazilian Government investigate US spying on its soil, but only if he were granted political asylum. He said that while his “greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning”, he said he was inspired by the reaction in certain countries, including Brazil.
“Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more,” he said.
tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not ‘surveillance’, it’s ‘data collection’. They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement – where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualised suspicion – and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever.”
He went on to claim that many Brazilian senators agree and have asked for his assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. “Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organisation, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens.
“Even the defenders of mass surveillance, those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls, now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public.
“If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defence of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.”
If this is the last we hear from Snowden in 2013, which I suspect it is as he has now issued two comments in the past few days, then it comes at a crucial time for the US Government as it faces the first official criticism of its actions.