The “suspicionless” mass surveillance of people by programs in the U.S. and other parts of the world must be stopped or nations run the risk of having their policy dictated by spies, former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden told European Union lawmakers.
“I know the good and the bad of these systems, and what they can and cannot do, and I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen,” Snowden said in a 12-page testimony to the European Parliament’s justice committee today.
EU officials, including Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, have urged the U.S. to boost its privacy rules or risk harming relations with the bloc in the wake of reports the NSA eavesdropped on world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. EU lawmakers are expected to adopt next week a report on an inquiry into the effects of mass spying.
“The parliamentarians now have to take into account” Snowden’s answers next Monday before the report is voted on by the EU lawmakers’ plenary on Wednesday, Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green party politician in the EU Parliament, said in an e-mailed statement. He called on European nations to grant protection to Snowden, who is seeking EU asylum.
“The indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end,” said Snowden in his testimony, which doesn’t disclose new information. “I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth.”
“There are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens’ rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders,” Snowden said. “I have not disclosed any information to anyone other than those responsible journalists.”
EU lawmakers “should ask the NSA” and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, “to deny that they monitor the communications of EU citizens,” he said. “The surest way for any nation to become subject to unnecessary surveillance is to allow its spies to dictate its policy.”
U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said earlier this week new rules for spy agencies “fit for the Internet age” need to be developed following months of leaks from Snowden.
“The right to be free of unwarranted intrusion into our private effects -- our lives and possessions, our thoughts and communications -- is a human right,” Snowden said. “It is not granted by national governments and it cannot be revoked by them out of convenience.”
Snowden, 30, fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia after leaking classified documents on the NSA spying programs. He faces espionage charges in the U.S.