18:08 GMT29 November 2020
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    Two days after the expiration of a key provision of the USA Patriot Act used to justify the NSA’s collection of metadata, Edward Snowden partook in a rare Q & A session with supporters around the world. Fielding a series of questions, Snowden reminded us why it’s important to remain vigilant in the fight for online privacy.

    The event, hosted by Amnesty International UK, preceded a screening of the Oscar-winning documentary, Citizenfour. Directed by Laura Poitras, the film reflects on the life-changing decision of former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden to blow the lid on the agency’s domestic spying apparatus.

    Appearing before the audience through a live video feed, Snowden said that despite the small progress made with the expiration of the Patriot Act provisions, ultimately, "it’s not about the law."

    "It’s about the fact that despite the fact that this program was considered ineffective and illegal by every branch of government, spies and their representatives in Congress argued that it should remain."

    "We cannot give up the foundation of all rights," he added. "And that’s what privacy is."

    Snowden also pointed that while curbing the NSA is certainly a critical step, British GCHQ is even worse, and much must still be done on a global scale.

    "The government in the UK is actually trying to reform laws in a very negative way," he said, adding that the British government wants to amend legislation so that it can "hack into people’s computers who aren’t an intelligence target at all."

    These programs are being pursued despite the fact that there is no evidence for their efficacy.

    "Do we really want the government watching everybody all the time? You have to remember the fact that we have a proven history now that these programs are not effective."

    This is evidenced by the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013, the first major attack on US soil since the implementation of the surveillance program, which intelligence agencies failed to prevent.

    Why should any of this matter to the average, law-abiding citizen? To Snowden, that’s like saying "I don’t care about free speech because I have nothing to say. I don’t care about freedom of the press because I don’t have anything to write."

    Despite how much his life has changed, Snowden says he would do it all again.

    "I have applied for asylum in 21 countries across the world, many in Western Europe. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me."

    But he may not be in that big of a rush. When asked where he sees himself in five years, the whistleblower said, "I wake up with a smile on my face everyday. Life is good."

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    • 19:29

      "I have applied for asylum in 21 countries across the world. And I have more hope today than ever before."

      "Life is good," Snowden says.

      O'Carroll tells Snowden that, in addition to questions for this event, they've received dozens of notes thanking the whistleblower for what he's done. 

      "All I can say is thank you," he responds. 

    • 19:26

      David Cameron is within the NSA's surveillance targets, along with everyone else, Snowden says.

      The restrictions that the US and UK put in place to protect each other from the reach of surveillance were not bound by law, the whistleblower says.

      If the NSA considers something to be within the interests of national security, they're happy to breach agreements about the limitations of spying, Snowden says.

      "That sounds like a great friendship," comments Tanya O'Carroll, Amnesty International's adviser on technology and human rights.  

    • 19:23

      "You have to recognize these aren't public safety programs. These are spying programs."

      Thanks to advances in technology, Snowden says, we can assert our rights in ways we've never been able to before. 


    • 19:22
    • 19:19

      When you stop caring about basic fundamental privacy, Snowden says, you're shifting the balance of democracy

      "Rather than being partner to government," he says, "we become subjects to it."

      And from there, he argues, it's very difficult to go back.  There can be no revolutionary movement when the government knows everything you're doing. 

      "We cannot give up the foundation of all rights. And that's what privacy really is."  

    • 19:17

      "Regardless of whether you've done anything wrong or not," Snowden says, when the government is watching everything you do, they can find something to pin you with.

    • 19:14

      Snowden: The government isn't just watching the 'bad guys.' It's everyone whose opinion might be different from the status quo.

      And "we have a proven history in the United States that these programs are ineffective" in preventing attacks on civilians. 

      "When you collect everything, you understand nothing."

    • 19:10

      Snowden: Even the surveillance systems that are operating in the UK are designed by the NSA in the United States

      The whistleblower reminds us that every communication we engage in is being monitored.  

      There is an argument, he says, that it's harmless.  It's just metadata.

      But the US drone program, he points out, is based on metadata.  "It's killing people," he stresses.  

      The top lawyer of the NSA, Snowden says, told us that "if you have enough metadata, you don't need content."  It's a proxy for data, and with it, the government can reconstruct all the details about a person's life.  

    • 19:05

      Snowden: What do you think we can do to change the cycle of government secrecy?

      The whistleblower turned the "million dollar question" around to the hosts of the Q&A event.

      Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, says "We're fighting a really really long fight here."

      But "we shouldn't be disheartened by this. It's a sign that now, we have an opportunity to do something about this."

      New legislation in the UK, he says, is an essential first step. 


    • 19:03

      Snowden: Most of the UK media has not decided to tell the public the truth about British surveillance

      Rather than doing that, they're simply calling the government and asking them, and then reporting on what they say, Snowden says. 

      The UK government, he says, is not doing their job.  "Rather than preserving civil liberties," he says, "they're trying to limit it."

    • 19:00

      Question for Snowden: What do you mean that "GCHQ - they're the worst"?

      Snowden: "Why is the UK government so secretive?"

      They would argue that if the public knew about surveillance programs, terrorist attacks would occur, Snowden says. But that's hiding the main issue.

      "What they actually feared from public disclosures was 'a damaging public debate,'" he says.

    • 18:57

      Snowden says, now that we know about bulk NSA collection of data, the public has changed its attitudes towards mass surveillance.

      The victory that this change represents, the rejection of this law by the legislature - it's not about the law at all, Snowden says. It's about the fact that, despite the reality that this program was deemed ineffective, the government argued that it should remain.

      "We've found that facts are more persuasive than fear."

    • 18:53

      Snowden: "The government decided to start making decisions for us."

      The famed whistleblower says transparency is essential. 

      Protection, he says, is a far cry from protecting civil privacy. 

    • 18:50

      Snowden begins speaking with supporters in London

      Responding to the question of whether "it's been worth it, looking back," Snowden says that despite his personal hardship, the things we've all benefited from publicly "makes it all worth it." 


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