Activist, fugitive, and whistleblower Edward Snowden took questions from the public on Thursday, sharing his views on privacy, the Constitution, and President Obama’s recent speech about bulk data collection and the practices of those at the NSA.
Snowden spoke on a wide range of topics concerning the NSA and the state of civil liberties and surveillance in the US, generally. Folks with a burning interest in all things Snowden are definitely encouraged to read the whole thing (as if you needed the encouragement). But for those who are interested in Snowden, but perhaps don’t want to comb through the entire Q&A, here are the 9 best bits.
1. He believes the damage wrought by the NSA is not irreversible and that U.S. citizens can “correct” laws that allow too much surveillance.
“What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.”
2. He thinks whistleblower protection laws in the U.S. are weaker and more ineffective than many Americans understand.
“One of the things that has not been widely reported by journalists is that whistleblower protection laws in the US do not protect contractors in the national security arena. There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing.”
3. He claims Obama “seems” to believe what he did “needed to be done.”
“My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistleblower protection act reform. If we had had a real process in place, and reports of wrongdoing could be taken to real, independent arbiters rather than captured officials, I might not have had to sacrifice so much to do what at this point even the President seems to agree needed to be done.”
4. He denies a Reuters report saying he stole passwords and tricked coworkers into divulging sensitive information during his time as a contractor.
“With all due respect to Mark Hosenball, the Reuters report that put this out there was simply wrong. I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers.”
5. He’s optimistic that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board report will spur Congress to act.
“I don’t see how Congress could ignore it, as it makes it clear there is no reason at all to maintain the 215 program.”
7. He wants to come back to the U.S.
“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.
The hundred-year old law under which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.”
8. He says he’s “not going to be intimidated” by anonymous threats to his life from members of the intelligence community.
“That current, serving officials of our government are so comfortable in their authorities that they’re willing to tell reporters on the record that they think the due process protections of the 5th Amendment of our Constitution are outdated concepts. These are the same officials telling us to trust that they’ll honor the 4th and 1st Amendments. This should bother all of us.
The fact that it’s also a direct threat to my life is something I am aware of, but I’m not going to be intimidated. Doing the right thing means having no regrets.”
9. He’s not an anti-spy absolutist, and he thinks people “at the working level” in the intelligence community are “good people.”
“Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.
The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court, a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests (which denied only 11 requests out of 33,900 in 33 years). They’re the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far.”