Whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former CIA analyst and now contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton for the U.S. National Security Agency, may be facing prison time in the U.S. for his disclosure of top-secret documents to The Guardian and the Washington Post last week, exposing a nationwide government surveillance program run by the National Safety Agency (NSA).
The NSA surveillance program has been reviewing the metadata – location, length of phone call, and the caller’s identity – of phone records collected under a top-secret court order to wireless provider Verizon Wireless. The exposing of the NSA’s secret surveillance program is being touted as one of the biggest leaks of U.S. history and raises questions of how much the government is invading citizens’ privacy.
As a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden was a systems administrator contracted by the NSA. In a recorded interview with Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill late last week, Snowden described his job with NSA as “being able to see everything.”
Snowden was asked during the interview why he made the disclosure and his response was a chilling reminder of the U.S. government’s ever-growing ability to monitor communications.
“The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards,” he responded. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
In response to the NSA leaks, the government claims that the NSA surveillance program is to protect citizens from possible terror threats. However, Snowden warned in his interview with Greenwald that although data is collected without targeting most of the time, the government has the power to single out a target under mere suspicion alone. The government would then be able to go back in time and use past data collected against the targeted person. And if the wrong person was targeted, innocent lives could be ruined.
“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even a president,” Snowden said in the interview. “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with.”
It was after this revelation that he leaked his PowerPoint slides exposing the NSA surveillance program, PRISM to the public last Thursday, where 4 of the 41 slides of the presentation were leaked by both news sources. Snowden later revealed his identity to the Guardian video interview, which was published Sunday.
Earlier reports said Snowden had been holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong for an undisclosed amount of time since the NSA leaks. It is believed that Snowden took refuge in the city because of it’s lax freedom of speech laws, possibly hoping to seek asylum from the U.S. However, because of a 16-year-old treaty between Hong Kong and the United States that guarantees extradition of wanted persons under rare circumstances, if Snowden remained in Hong Kong, his chances of being extradited would be high.
Krysta is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.