Edward Snowden Provides Testimony to European Parliament as Part of Mass Surveillance Inquiry

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Edward Snowden has sent a 12-page testimony to a Members of the European Parliament as part of an inquiry into the electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens. Published on Friday, the testimony argues that the mass surveillance programs by the NSA and GHCQ “endanger a number of basic rights which, in aggregate, constitute the foundation of liberal societies.”

“I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe,” Snowden writes, using a number of examples to illustrate this point, including the Boston Bombers. “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.”

While Snowden doesn’t actually talk about any new information in the testimony, he does reiterate the seriousness and scope of the mass surveillance.

“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 writes. “The right to be free unwarranted intrusion into our private effects — our lives and possessions, our thoughts and communications — is a human right. It is not granted by national governments and it cannot be revoked by them out of convenience. Just as we do not allow police officers to enter every home to fish around for evidence of undiscovered crimes, we must not allow spies to rummage through our every communication for indications of disfavored activities.”

Snowden also argues that “better oversight could have prevented the mistakes that brought us to this point, as could an understanding that defense is always more important than offense when it comes to matters of national intelligence.”

Recently, the UK’s Labour Party called for major changes to the legal framework of British intelligence agencies, including more oversight.

In the testimony, Snowden responds to a number of questions put forth by Members of the European Parliament, including whether he felt that he “had exhausted all avenues before taking the decision to go public.”

In response, Snowden said he had “reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials,
none of whom took any action to address them.”

Snowden also denies any relationship with the Chinese or Russian government, but said he was approached by the Russian secret service.

“[I] didn’t take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck,” he writes.

The testimony comes as the European Parliament prepares for a vote on Wednesday to suspend the Safe Harbor privacy agreement with the US, which enables US firms wth European data to self-certify that they adhere to EU data protection laws. The outcome of this vote will have an impact on hosting providers and other web firms with European customers.

Also next week, Snowden will answer questions via webcast at SXSW on the impact of the NSA’s spying efforts on the technology community, and how technology can be used to protect users from mass surveillance.

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