SURVEILLANCE WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden has responded to the European Parliament's questions about PRISM and data privacy.
Snowden's testimony to the Parliamentary inquiry on electronic mass surveillance saw the whistleblower discuss his role at the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the things that the agency required him to do. He also answered some questions presented by the parliament.
Snowden, who alerted the world to the PRISM internet surveillance system, said that excessive surveillance has a counter-intuitive impact and does more harm than good.
"The suspicionless surveillance programs of the NSA, GCHQ, and so many others that we learned about over the last year endanger a number of basic rights which, in aggregate, constitute the foundation of liberal societies," he said.
"I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe. By squandering precious, limited resources on 'collecting it all,' we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads. I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified."
He was of course at the thin end of this surveillance and claimed that the NSA asked him to spy on individuals and that this was done with the full support of the US government national security establishent.
"I worked for the United States' Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency. I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue. And I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth," he added.
"The NSA granted me the authority to monitor communications worldwide using its mass surveillance systems, including within the United States. I have personally targeted individuals using these systems under both the President of the United States' Executive Order 12333 and the US Congress' FAA 702."
Speaking directly to his audience, he bought these capabilities home, explaining that they were all layed out in front of him like so many open books. "I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen. I swear under penalty of perjury that this is true," he added.
"These are not the capabilities in which free societies invest. Mass surveillance violates our rights, risks our safety, and threatens our way of life."
Snowden also responded to some questions from the parliamentary committee that previously had been provided to him, but he stopped short of making any new disclosures. He did suggest that civil liberties and freedom in Europe have effectively been gutted through an erosion of data privacy.
In one example he said that lawyers from the NSA and GCHQ regularly try to pressure European Union member states into loosening data privacy and surveillance rules, adding that this waters down security everywhere.
"The ultimate result of the NSA's guidance is that the right of ordinary citizens to be free from unwarranted interference is degraded, and systems of intrusive mass surveillance are being constructed in secret within otherwise liberal states, often without the full awareness of the public," he added.
"Ultimately, each EU national government's spy services are independently hawking domestic accesses to the NSA, GCHQ, FRA and the like without having any awareness of how their individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole."
Snowden said that the European Parliament should press the NSA and GCHQ on whether they monitor European citizens, adding that no response is as good as a yes.
He said that internally the NSA does not respond well to concerns voiced about its practices, explaining that people either suggest a policy of not rocking the boat or just leave such issues for someone else to worry about.
"Even among the most senior individuals to whom I reported my concerns, no one at NSA could ever recall an instance where an official complaint had resulted in an unlawful programme being ended," he added.
The whistleblower said that he took his concerns to 10 officials before accepting that only third-party awareness would inspire change.
He added that there are many more disclosures to make, but said that he would let public interest and trusted journalists decide when they are released. µ