Snowden Gives Testimony To European Parliament Inquiry Into Mass Surveillance, Asks For EU Asylum

from the impressive,-as-ever dept

A few weeks back, we reported that the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee planned to send some questions to Edward Snowden as part of its inquiry on electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens. He’s now replied to these, prefacing them with a short statement (pdf — embedded below.) Although there are no major revelations — he specifically states that he will not be disclosing anything not already published — it does contain many important clarifications and interesting comments. For example, he confirms that:

The NSA granted me the authority to monitor communications world-wide using its mass surveillance systems, including within the United States. I have personally targeted individuals using these systems under both the President of the United States’ Executive Order 12333 and the US Congress’ FAA 702. 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 [LIBE] committee, as well as any ordinary citizen. I swear under penalty of perjury that this is true

Before moving on to the parliamentarian’s questions, he concludes his opening statement as follows:

For the record, I also repeat my willingness to provide testimony to the United States Congress, should they decide to consider the issue of unconstitutional mass surveillance.

The first question from the MEPs on the committee concerns the extent of the cooperation between the NSA and EU member states. Snowden’s answer includes some new background information on what’s been going on here:

One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. Lawyers from the NSA, as well as the UK’s GCHQ, work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorized by lawmakers. These efforts to interpret new powers out of vague laws is an intentional strategy to avoid public opposition and lawmakers’ insistence that legal limits be respected, effects the GCHQ internally described in its own documents as “damaging public debate.”

That makes a mockery of the UK government’s insistence that GCHQ’s actions were always “within the law”: that’s only true to the extent that the agency happily exploited to the maximum loopholes its lawyers have spotted in the already weak UK legislation covering this area. In terms of the spying programs, Snowden hints that there’s much more to come, and underlines that revealing them is now a matter for journalists, not for him:

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.

Another question probed the options for raising concerns about spying programs, and asked him whether he thought he had exhausted them before deciding to leak the documents himself. He explained that he had reported programs that seemed problematic to “more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them.” So much for the idea that he didn’t try hard enough to use official channels before taking more drastic action.

On the question of what the European Parliament could do to help him, Snowden’s answer is characteristically self-effacing:

If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end. What happens to me as a person is less important than what happens to our common rights.

But he then goes on to say:

As for asylum, I do seek EU asylum, but I have yet to receive a positive response to the requests I sent to various EU member states. Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the US, and I quote, “will not allow” EU partners to offer political asylum to me, which is why the previous resolution on asylum ran into such mysterious opposition. I would welcome any offer of safe passage or permanent asylum, but I recognize that would require an act of extraordinary political courage.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that political courage will be forthcoming given the extremely weak responses from European governments to the spying leaks. Snowden was also asked about economic espionage:

global surveillance capabilities are being used on a daily basis for the purpose of economic espionage. That a major goal of the US Intelligence Community is to produce economic intelligence is the worst kept secret in Washington.

In this context he makes an astute observation:

Recently, governments have shifted their talking points from claiming they only use mass surveillance for “national security” purposes to the more nebulous “valid foreign intelligence purposes.” I suggest this committee consider that this rhetorical shift is a tacit acknowledgment by governments that they recognize they have crossed beyond the boundaries of justifiable activities..

He also elaborates on an early comment that encryption, done properly, does offer a measure of protection against the kind of surveillance programs he has revealed:

The good news is that there are solutions. The weakness of mass surveillance is that it can very easily be made much more expensive through changes in technical standards: pervasive, end-to-end encryption can quickly make indiscriminate surveillance impossible on a cost-effective basis. The result is that governments are likely to fall back to traditional, targeted surveillance founded upon an individualized suspicion.

In other words, encryption brings a double benefit. It helps preserve people’s privacy and freedom, and thanks to the high costs of breaking properly-encrypted communications, it encourages governments to move back to the older, more targetted kind of spying that Snowden himself calls “above reproach”. Finally, he was asked some more hostile questions from the right-leaning members of the committee, including whether the Russian secret service had approached him:

Of course. Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that’s their job.

But I didn’t take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck. I was also accompanied at all times by an utterly fearless journalist [WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison] with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, which is the equivalent of Kryptonite for spies. As a consequence, we spent the next 40 days trapped in an airport instead of sleeping on piles of money while waiting for the next parade. But we walked out with heads held high.

As that hints, it’s an eloquent and important document that is worth reading in its entirety. It not only adds useful details to many of the facts that have been published earlier, but also underlines the consistently rigorous and moral approach that Snowden has taken from the beginning.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Snowden Gives Testimony To European Parliament Inquiry Into Mass Surveillance, Asks For EU Asylum”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: A dangerous game, you play

Yeah, actually leaving Russia, asylum or not, would probably not be the best(or safest, or sanest) idea, but even if he stayed right there, to have a country publicly grant him asylum would be quite the accomplishment, and a giant (well earned) middle finger to the USG over the matter, showing that that country at least was willing to stand up to the USG and refuse to bow to their threats.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now Snowden has done it...

He actually asked for asylum. Not that it’s bad or unexpected but you can be damn sure the supporters of mass surveillance will jump on this saying he’s obviously done something wrong and wants protection because of it.

Just hope they happen to miss this bit so we can discuss the programs not the person.

Anonymous Coward says:

I hate the game being played here. Looking for revelations to gain concessions under the name of citizen protection is cowardly.
The EU has made far too many concessions to the US and absolutely need to declare some independance. When they put another country’s demands ahead of their citizens they simply cannot be taken seriously.

Grant the guy irrevocable asylum.

Easily Amused (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Russia is definitely not demonstrating morality here. They are just behaving as any playground bully does when they find out they have something someone else wants an start playing keep-away with it. They knew within 30 minutes of finding out his passport was revoked at the airport that he didn’t have any juicy secrets to give them and was not interested in being a propaganda mouthpiece for the FSB. Everything since then is just theater to keep the USA looking foolish on the world stage.

If Kerry/Obama/Clinton told Putin tomorrow that we would shut up about Crimea if they gave us back Snowden, he’d be on a CIA plane within minutes.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“They are just behaving as any playground bully does when they find out they have something someone else wants an start playing keep-away with it.

While Russia are due plenty of criticism right now, it’s not for this. Russia are not keeping Snowden there, they’re simply letting him stay. The USG are the ones preventing him from leaving Russia thanks to a cancelled passport.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You can’t be serious. Russia just watched their little brothers kick out a democratically elected government by in large because of the far right and in some case neo-nazis that were part of the protests (which is why they took such an ugly turn).

The USSR gave Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR under Krutschev as a show of good faith. People in Crimea didn’t go revolt when by large most people there are ethnic russians. A precedent has been set with Kosovo, if Crimeans vote to be an autonomous Republic under the Russian Federation (there’s a lot of those), so be it, and no matter the if the retarded rhetoric of Stephen Harper (hilarious how Canada is under this creepy dictator-like “conservative” prime minister) gets louder and “outraged” about it. Russia still does not recognize Kosovo, and one Head of the security council of the UN won’t recognize Crimea. Big fucking deal.

At least the government of Crimea will not be led by gangsters/drug dealers.

I’m not russian, american, or canadian for that matter, just a well informed Dutch. You know, that country that is by large the most free country in the white-dominated western world.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well, the distasteful thing here is that “by large most people there are ethnic Russians” is because Stalin had the original Tartans from Crimea killed and/or deported to Siberia and had Russians installed there.

So having majority decisions decide about the fate of Crimea means that the majorities making the decisions are planted majorities. And it’s not long enough ago that people, in particular the remaining now minorities as well as the now majorities don’t remember vividly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Really it is all Yanukovych’s damn fault for being stupid and cruel. You hear about how Watergate’s issue was the “cover up not the crime”? The protests didn’t oust them, his reaction did. Really, after Libya and Syria there is no excuse for thinking that escalating things by shooting protesters would end well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As others have previously replied, I highly doubt that Snowden would be on a CIA plane within minutes. US (government) criticism about Russian involvement in the situation in Crimea is nothing but obvious, blatant hypocrisy to most people’s ears, and I doubt that a sophisticated country like the Russian Federation wouldn’t know that. Given the vast amount of propaganda put out by the west against Russia, do you really think that they would give up someone so wanted by the USG over nothing more than a bit of every-day criticism?

pegr (profile) says:

They keep forgetting the core principal

They keep forgetting the core principal that rules always and forever.

You cannot keep your secrets secret forever. The best you can hope for is to keep your secrets secret long enough to be effective. If your strategy requires you to keep your secrets forever, especially with close to a million people in on it, you are destined to fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Awesome. Good job, Snowden. Let’s hope they actually listen to you now, both the EU and the US government.

I’m also disgusted about the fact that US would “not allow” EU countries to give him asylum. What a bunch of cowards. Is the whole EU a vassal to US? I thought EU countries were being integrated into the European Union, not United States.

If US pretends to be our master, too, now, can we at least get the right to vote for the US leaders?

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“If US pretends to be our master, too, now, can we at least get the right to vote for the US leaders?”

Be careful what you wish for. Getting the right to vote in the U.S. would probably come with our never-ending political campaigning and propaganda and an even more subservient media serving up political infomercials rather than actual news. Not to mention that, in the end, the people you do successfully elect would all too often find the fetid swamp of D.C. to be a comfy Jacuzzi they can relax in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

While it might be useful as a moderating influence to actually forcibly graft a left wing onto this bird I doubt most people would be happy with it even with nationalism thrown out the window. Let alone the discontents between the old and new system regardless of how the union resolved the differences.

Although it would be fun and educational to grab the popcorn and watch news feeds from an alternate universe where this decision to form the EUS was actually made tomorrow, or even just placed on a ballot.

EU +US = Married says:

Re: Re:

The EU and US are married. They are partners. Of course the EU will NOT stray from its relationship with a country that is enabling more surveillance.

Seriously, Snowden needs to stay in the Russian area permanently, if the US let’s him live much longer.

I wonder why they haven’t … um … faked his demise yet, via the usual hanging or some other faux “he couldn’t cope with life” method. Why is he still able to communicate. How does his communication benefit the NSA? Is there something Snowden is distracting our attention from contemplating … Anyone?

Anonymous Coward says:

‘underlines the consistently rigorous and moral approach that Snowden has taken from the beginning’

and yet he is still the one being sought so as to be able to be charged with all sorts of bogus crap, just to make the White House and the NSA to feel good. it should be the security forces heads and the likes of Feinstein who should have their heads laying on the chopping block!
i would have hoped that the EU member states had more balls than they have shown/are showing up to now. if the threat from the USA of ‘would not allow’ Snowden into one of the EU countries, i wonder what they would do? threaten everyone, as usual, with the sanctions that are as gutless as ever, but still for some reason, countries fear? or would it go to all out war? that being the case, does the USA expect to be able to annihilate others without being annihilated itself? think again buddy! you would be in just as much shit as everyone else. and the ridiculous part of it all is ,the whole fucking issue has been caused by the USA in the first place! but in typical attitude form, it has done nothing wrong and is still condemning and threatening everyone else!! unbelievable!!

David says:

Re: Re:

The U.S., as part of the allied sources, is entitled to tell the German authorities “hand this guy over”, and Germany would be in violation of the treaties they signed on surrender. The U.S. could just use military force to get at Snowden and international courts would have to nod it off.

Germany is legally occupied territory and they missed the opportunity when reuniting to have the old treaties cancelled.

So yes: it would be irresponsible of Germany to pretend they are in a situation where they could grant anybody political asylum against one of the allied forces (I?think that Russia, in contrast, is no longer in a special situation here).

Of course, the current German government is so much of a U.S. lapdop (when then-chancellor Schr?der denied support for the Iraque war to Bush, then-opposition leader Merkel flew into the U.S. and ascertained Bush of her personal fealty to the U.S.) that they would probably also mess things up when not having their hands forced.

Who else is there? UK? Obviously not interested. France? They also have hell of a spy system of their own. Basically every country with reasonable military independence has its arm up to the shoulder in the cookie jar.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Re: Re: Freedom


Jesse submits that Snowden thinks it is permissible to commit mass murder. Jesse supports this argument with his belief that meta-data is the only thing capable of discovering the identity of the perpetrators of such acts. Jesse further challenges Snowden to return to the US and make his statements directly to the US people [translator’s note: presumably in front of a court].

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Freedom

Holy fuck! I am so entertained right now. I simply can not believe this shit is free. Fifteen times I’ve read this paragraph and not one toll. Outstanding. Someone actually typed that. … So cool.

I posit that Mr. Anderson is, without a shadow of doubt, a free man. Us hear been wording ok until mcnugget not mouth fit more.

Stay free brother, stay free.

Tummy hurts.

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

BTW, “conned” himself into the job? Citation, please?

Snowden, after having made the determination that something was really wrong with the NSA, switched contractor jobs (and technically employers) in order to obtain further documentation. Apparently he admitted this himself (I haven’t seen the source on that).

Note that the NSA defenders often try to spin this in a way that people will think Snowden joined the NSA in order to find something to leak, which is not the case. Rather, Snowden sought greater authority within the NSA to acquire more evidence.

My source is a debate between the leaker of the Pentagon Papers and an NSA advisor.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Re:

erhm.. It looks to me like the European Union gives at least two fucks and I’m almost certain that there’s at least two more fucks east & west of Europe and I give one fuck so that’s potentially five whole fucks given. I forget, do you need the douche before or after you’ve been fucked? Fuck it, you should probably douche twice for safety’s sake. Isn’t there a pole somewhere you should be licking? Put that tongue to better use, maybe?

Anonymous Coward says:

If he or any other person who believes in citizens rights ever needs a place to hide, I’m there for ya. I’m tired of the dinosaurs ruining the country and the 19 year olds who think they are contributing to the nation by working for the NSA, CIA, etc… throwing away the constitution.

It is very sad, but people just like us with the same skill set are the ones enabling this type of destruction of our rights. I will never hire anyone who lists a government job on their resume.

Anonymous Coward says:

So there are two kind of countries here. The ones who work closely with the US and will not do anything the US doesnt want, and those who try to fight against this soviet-style system and prefer to stay out of this charade.
Its obvious that he will not get asylium anywhere until the US backs down, which will not happen until they get up from their lazy asses and tell their government that they dont agree with this shit

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: all things aside

Not much would change I’d imagine, this isn’t a democrat/republican issue, as both parties are equally guilty.

Now, some may try and spin it as all due to ‘those dirty democrats/republicans’, but that’s just attempting to shift the issue, get people fighting over which party is ‘to blame’, rather than focusing on the actual problem.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 all things aside

I disagree. The notion of the “liberal media” is a fiction intentionally pushed as part of the partisan wars. It’s not true, and enough people know it’s not true that it’s a stretch to say it’s “generally acknowledged.”

The mainstream media does have a bias, but it isn’t on the liberal/conservative yardstick. They’re corporatist and slant in whatever direction their corporate owners feel is the most advantageous.

WulfTheSaxon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 all things aside

I was originally going to say something like ?if anything, the US media has a slight liberal bias? ? perhaps that would?ve been better.

I do think that media bias studies tend to suffer from experimenter?s bias. On the other hand, I find it difficult to argue with polls of newsroom workers (including by the American Society of Newspaper Editors) that show they?re significantly more liberal than the general population.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 all things aside

I can’t even go with “slight liberal bias,” because that’s still using the wrong yardstick and misses the actual bias, which is to help the corporations that own the news outlets maximize their profits.

Whether newsroom workers lean left or right isn’t meaningful at all. They aren’t the ones who set the slant of the news. The owners are, and the owners don’t care one bit about left vs right. That’s just the nonsense meant to keep us serfs fighting amongst ourselves so we won’t notice that we have lords.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 all things aside

I forgot to put the caboose to this train: “More likely he?d be painted as out to embarrass Obama for political reasons, even at the expense of national security.”

That could happen, or he could be hailed as the second coming. Which way the media would go with that has nothing to directly do with parties, conservatism, or liberalism. It would have to do with which way would get the owners more power and money.

Would a boost for Obama be good for them? Then they’ll give him the boost. Would knocking him down a few pegs be good for them? Then they’ll knock him down.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Gotta love that hypocrisy

Ah, never gets old, seeing people like this who get angry at Snowden for ‘harming ‘murica’ show such open contempt for such core principles of the US like ‘everyone gets their day in court before punishment’ and ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Nope, far as they’re concerned, they know he’s guilty, so straight to the execution, none of that ‘court to prove guilt’ crap.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Gotta love that hypocrisy

The trouble is, it’s now seen as un-American and an admission of weakness to give ‘everyone gets their day in court before punishment’ and consider them ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Anyone who asserts that these days, ‘must be a liberal socialist.’ I’m not joking, that’s where we’re at now.

I really wish that ‘Conservative’ meant ‘promoting traditional American values’ instead of ‘terrifying nutjob,’ as it currently does. And yes, I still self-identify as conservative (moderate).

Crimea, River says:

Crimea, Kiev ... now We Know

Forcing the Ukraine, or any independent region near Russia, to join the EU and voila. We have access to the area’s shale, oil and intelligence.

So now I understand, why the U.S., et al., wants Ukraine and friends, to join the EU.

Stay out of the EU. Seriously. Putin at this point is a better partner than NSA/EU/Spyworld.

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