A week after President Obama's speech on US surveillance policy, Edward Snowden says he believes there's hope for reforming the US intelligence system, but returning to see those changes would be "not possible" under current laws. Today, Snowden held a rare live question-and-answer session through his legal defense foundation's site, taking Twitter users' inquiries on surveillance policy, whistleblower protections, and a recently-released government oversight report that found the NSA's bulk metadata collection illegal and not helpful in preventing terrorism.
"Not all spying is bad."
In the session, Snowden laid out what he believes is the appropriate extent of US surveillance. "Not all spying is bad," he said. "The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents' communication every single day. This is done not because it's necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap. 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."
Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, reiterated his long-running call for whistleblower protections to be extended to national security contractors like himself. "If I had revealed what I knew about these unconstitutional but classified programs to Congress, they could have charged me with a felony." Without reform, "there's no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury."
He also touched on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's report on telephone record collection, which was released earlier today. The panel found that the program had led to no new leads and virtually no useful information in terrorism investigations, and that the benefits it could provide weren't enough to justify its threat to First and Fourth Amendment protections. "There is simply no justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a zero percent success rate," he said. "In light of another independent confirmation of this fact, I think Americans should look to the White House and Congress to close the book entirely" on the provision that justifies it. "I don't see how Congress could ignore it," he said in response to a followup question.
The leaked documents Snowden released to The Guardian, The New York Times, and other papers have garnered more publicity than the man himself in recent months, but his name was raised during Friday's White House reform speech, when Obama insisted that the leaks had damaged national security and that Snowden should not be considered an ethical whistleblower.