EDWARD SNOWDEN has told a gathering of ministers at the Council of Europe just how capable US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance is, and how regularly it is used.
It is very capable, said Snowden, who described data hauls as a trivial task, and it is a system that is used constantly. He added that unless changes are made it will become a beast that cannot be tamed and is as damaging to governments as it is civil rights.
Speaking from Russia and concerned about his liberty, the whistleblower said that there are "few legal channels" available to people in his position, and added that he has "no intention of harming the US government". He explained, "My motivation is to improve government, not bring it down."
During his talk Snowden answered questions and asked some of his own, asking whether Europe is ready to act against surveillance. He said that changes need to be made, particularly in security and the use of encryption, but added that secure uncrackable communications are a reality.
That is a way from where we are now, he said, and he added that presently the NSA is in a position to reach out and acquire information on any person, and anyone that person might know, whenever and wherever it wants.
"The NSA can track entire populations of people who share only a common trait," he said, adding that this could be anything from what websites they visit through to their sexuality. "The infrastructure has been built, and it is available to anyone."
Snowden warned that the system can be used to manipulate, and talked of "unprecedented forms of political interference," saying that the US government had tried to copy the UK GCHQ in its webcam trawls. Worse, it does all this with no real oversight, other than from what Snowden called "a rubber stamp court".
"The NSA is not engaged in nightmare scenarios," he added, "but it is deeply impacting on human rights. This is not just an issue for the EU and US, but a global problem."
Asked whether the US has eavesdropped on organisations like Amnesty, Snowden gave an immediate yes.
"The NSA has targeted leaders and staff members of these sorts of organisations, including domestically within the borders of the United States," he said, adding that effectively everyone, guilty or otherwise, is subject to "guilt by association", not due to "reasonable suspicion", by the NSA's policies. µ