Intelligence agents have been described as good people trying to do the right thing by Edward Snowden, who were “worried about the same things I was”.
In a live Q&A session, Snowden said that he felt that the USA would recover from the NSA story as “what makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws”. He also said that the US needs to work together to agree on a reasonable international norm for the limitations on spying.
“Nobody should be hacking critical-to-life infrastructures like hospitals and power stations, and it’s fair to say that can be recognised in international law,” he said.
“Additionally, we need to recognise that national laws are not going to solve the problem of indiscriminate surveillance. We need a global forum, and global funding, committed to the development of security standards that enforce our right to privacy not through law, but through science and technology. The easiest ways to ensure a country’s communications are secure is to secure them world-wide, and that means better standards, better crypto and better research.”
When asked what he felt was the worst and most realistic harm from bulk collection of data, Snowden said the harm was two-fold: the first is the chilling effect of being watched; and the second is that classified programs which create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part.
“This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where, once you come to the Government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the Government does,” he said.
“The power these records represent can’t be overstated. In fact, researchers have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in ‘databases of ruin’, where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without the Government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently as today by the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board.”
Snowden also said that not all spying is bad, but the biggest problem faced now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day.
He said: “I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any safer, we need to push back.”
“This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our Government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies, simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the
NSA is doing.”
He went on to say that the stories are “not good for our country, not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me”.