Exactly one week after President Barack Obama’s speech on US signals intelligence, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden conducted his first live chat since June 2013 on this website. The #AskSnowden hashtag was trending in the US as people put their questions to Snowden on twitter and the event attracted media coverage worldwide.
The full transcript of the event can be found here. Snowden’s answers highlighted legal protections for whistleblowers, the impact of mass surveillance on democratic culture and the mixed messages coming out of the US administration about the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone metadata.
On the day that the US government’s independent privacy board finally published its report – calling for an end to metadata collection under Section 215 as neither effective against terrorism nor justified in law – Snowden said he hoped Congress would take heed of the board’s findings.
When even the federal government says the NSA violated the constitution at least 120 million times under a single program, but failed to discover even a single ‘plot’, it’s time to end ‘bulk collection’.
Snowden emphasised that many of his former colleagues and supervisors were “good people trying to do the right thing… they were worried about the same things I was”, but were effectively prevented from speaking out because of the lack of protection for whistleblowers, particularly contractors, within the US legal framework.
The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court, a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests (which denied only 11 requests out of 33,900 in 33 years.) They’re the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far.
That same legal framework, Snowden acknowledged, made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial in the US. Domestic reform was, he argued, essential, not just to protect the rights of US citizens, but to set a global precedent, which should be reinforced with legal and technical standards set on an international level. Snowden concluded the live chat with an endorsement of The Day We Fight Back, a worldwide day of action against NSA mass surveillance planned by a coalition of digital rights groups, media organisations, online platforms and activists for 11 February.
Read the full transcript