Speaking from Moscow to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, whistleblower Edward Snowden provided live testimony, declaring:
“Technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times” (8 April 2014).
"Edward Snowden speaks via video link with members of the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg" (The Guardian).
Prominent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were alarmed to learn that the National Security Agency (NSA) in both the United States and the United Kingdom have intercepted telephone and information exchanges from high-level human rights staff. Snowden stated:
“The NSA has specifically targeted either leaders or staff members in a number of civil and non-governmental organisations…including domestically within the borders of the United States.”
Asked if the NSA had intercepted “highly sensitive and confidential communications,” Snowden replied: “The answer is, without question, yes. Absolutely.”
Snowden emphasized the wide-scale implications of these practices on reputable human rights organizations, and the safety of their human rights workers and staff, and how data-mining practices violate European Union privacy laws, including XKeyscore. He mentioned the NSA operated a “de facto policy of guilt by association.” The Guardian stated:
“XKeyscore allows analysts to search with no prior authorisation through vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”
In response to those who criticize his [Snowden's] outspoken account of the inner-workings of the NSA as a former analyst:
“I would like to clarify I have no intention to harm the US government or strain [its] bilateral ties.”
The Council of Europe defended the organization’s choice to invite Snowden’s testimony:
“Edward Snowden has triggered a massive public debate on privacy in the internet age. We hope to ask him what his revelations mean for ordinary users and how they should protect their privacy and what kind of restrictions Europe should impose on state surveillance.”
Amnesty International UK issued a press release following stark revelations. Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International Senior Director of International Law and Policy, stated:
“These allegations, if substantiated, would confirm our long-held fears that state intelligence agencies like the NSA and GCHQ have been subjecting human rights organisations to mass surveillance all along.
This raises the very real possibility that our communications with confidential sources have been intercepted. Sharing this information with other governments could put human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger.
When these concerns were raised before the US Supreme Court, they were dismissed as being ‘speculative’. Snowden’s latest revelation shows that these concerns are far from theoretical – they are a very real possibility.
We now need a full and frank disclosure of the extent of these surveillance programmes as well as water-tight legal guarantees against such indiscriminate surveillance in the future.”
NB: this opinion editorial was written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of any of the organizations noted above.