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Snowden Says Surveillance Is Worse Than Orwell Envisioned

NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks during a meeting with German Green Party lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, not pictured, regarding being a witness for a possible investigation into NSA spying in Germany, on October 31, 2013 in Moscow. Source: Sunshinepress via Getty Images

Dec. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, in a Christmas message on a London television station, called government surveillance worse than anything envisioned by George Orwell in his novel “1984.”

“The types of collection in the book -- microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us -- are nothing compared to what we have available today,” Snowden said on London’s Channel 4, an independent, privately owned station. “We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. ”

Orwell, a British writer, chronicled a future in which the U.S. and U.K. were absorbed into a superstate that constantly spied on its citizens. The book was first published in 1949.

“The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it,” Snowden said.

“Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance, and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.”

Snowden is now in Russia under temporary asylum. News organizations, including the Washington Post and U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, in June began publishing information about U.S. spy programs based on the ex-contractor’s disclosures.

The U.S. and its lawmakers are debating whether to restrain the programs following Snowden’s leaks, with President Barack Obama saying Dec. 20 that he’ll act on the recommendations of a review panel next month.

Channel 4 annually airs an “Alternative Christmas Message” to the broadcast by Queen Elizabeth II. Other speakers have included then-Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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