Edward Snowden about mass surveillance in Europe – La Nuit des Idées – 25/01/2018


Good evening everyone, Let the public applaude First of all : Thank you very much Edward Snowden for having accepted to come in Marseille for a couple of minutes. We will have four questions, which you will answer, please, in no more than 5 minutes. ES: Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure being with you tonight. To be honest, even if I’m only here for a few minutes, I’ll be happy to have a few years in Marseille, if I were allowed. First question : A few days ago, Donald Trump signed into law an extension of NSA surveillance powers for six more years. Does this represent an ongoing or a new threat for European citizens? Yes, so this is a complex law that has been controversial in the United States for many years. Let me speak briefly of the history of mass surveillance in the United States, to be clear on the meaning of mass surveillance. Traditionally intelligence services have always been involved in surveillance, in target surveillance, they know what they are trying to monitor: this military unit, this radio station, this telephone headline or channel or of course these terrorists. Mass surveillance arose most prominently in the United States in the wake of 9/11. George Bush ordered that the rules be changed and the NSA shift from the targets surveillance to the bulk collection of everyone’s internet communications, telephone communications. We would now use computers to target people within their phones. So the idea was that they will collect it all, they will try to grab every thing from the Internet and from phone networks. And then, after they collected it, after they build an estate of human lives, they will search for what specific data. Now traditionally the government says it is forbidden in the United States, unconstitutional because we have a right of privacy. So the government argue : this right only applies to Americans, no personal friends, Cuba, Russia, China or anywhere else, has a right to privacy. So what the government said they would say is that they would collect everyone’s communications but would only read the communications from one foreigner to another or from one foreigner to an American, but not from Americans to Americans. Second question: Given that Marseille is linked to the rest of the word by 13 submarine cables, what role should France and other European countries play in countering mass surveillance? So this flows on naturally from the last question. The idea is we now have a competition between many elements, a competition that in our era was unfortunately started by the United States: who can survey the most communications, the most people, in the most efficient way. What this means is this sort of arms race has moved to a place where American internet giants are working in contract with Facebook, with Google, with Apple – with all of this PRIM partners, PRISM programs we heard talking about in 2013, to share information. (break) To summarize: We have a legal regime being advanced in many countries that corporate partners become deputies of surveillance agencies. This is happening in a new way. And the question is: Is this right? Is this proper? Is this what we want ? The reality: whether we like it or not, it is happening now. So the question that you raise quite rightly is: what should Europe do? And the strongest argument that I think Europe can advance is that intelligence agencies must recognize that you can’t have a constitutional guarantee of your rights for someone inside your country, for this person who works in this capacity or a citizen, but not for everyone else in the world. Privacy either is a human right and everyone has it or it is not a human right, and no one benefits from it. Because the idea of anything else is that French agencies spy on the world, but not on France. Germany is spying on the world, but not on Germany. And so on with every country. But what that means is for every person with everyday life they are being attacked and monitored and tracked by 95 % of the world’s governments, only not their own. And unfortunately in many cases even there are guarantees that we as domestic citizens will not be spied on by our own countries, they are not strong, they are not reliable guarantees. Third question: What could the European Union do to protect whistleblowers and journalists? So I think there are many different ways on working on this. Unfortunately, whistleblowers have never been more necessary than they are today. We see governments aggressively pursuing new and expanding powers of secrecy. We’ve seen in France that the expansion and unfortunately the abuse of emergency powers are often passed under the justification of countering terrorism. But the routine use of these powers is applied in entirely different cases than the traditional intelligence gallery. But we never hear about these uses without whistleblowers because of these new expanded state secrecy privileges. So how do we protect them? The Scrawny principles that were decided by a group of I believe 22 different civil society organizations in June of 2013 are the closest that we have come to a strong recitation of what a system of regulations or privacy, access to information and whistleblowing would look like. Unfortunately, while these principles, the Scrawny principles, are derived from international law, they do not yet have the force of international recognition by governments as the law. European Union regulations, legislation and ultimately principles, both at the federation level and at member state level should be drawn from these Scrawny principles. But it is important to remember that these principles are only a starting point. They are very good ones, but they do not necessarily go as far as we need them, unfortunately. Fourth question What psychological, technical and strategical advice would you give to empower whistleblowers against the surveillance? This is a great question. I know we have a little bit talked about this, you referenced it to Hirschmann. And his work on exit, voice and loyalty. This sort of scheme of exit voice and loyalty describes the three possible choices that individuals can take in response to a degradation of power. Whether it is in a consumer product and they decide to buy something else or they decide to complain or they decide to buy it or whether we talk about citizenship with immigrants leaving the country, staying in the country, protesting or doing nothing or in institutions where you do nothing, you try to reform the organization within or you are forced to leave this organization. Of course there is this last question, to leave the organization. And everyone asks why. The problem is in the context of national security these institutions, spy agencies, try to collapse the choices available to its workers. Even if you see there serious criminalities they tell you that what you are talking about it is itself a crime. Reporting on a crime makes yourself a criminal. If you leave, you are forced to keep silence for the rest of your life. And at times it can be difficult to gain employment elsewhere, because the secret service work means you can’t tell your employers all the facts that you know. I think we have to, in that context, think how about to empower people to speak out both inside the organization and outside as a means of lawful behaviour. And I think the best mechanism for achieving this is to recognize this surveillance agencies ability to keep people quiet or corporation’s ability to retaliate against employees who reveal a private information or a corporate information. Even if it outlines wrong doing is to change the structure of its settings in a play. What does this look like? Firstly, today it is typical for government’s agencies in any country related to spying to say: We can’t explain why this is dangerous. We have to presume that it is dangerous. But this is inappropriate, this stands against all reason. Government must bare an obligation to demonstrate why. If they claim something is harmful, there is so. If they are trying to limit the publication of new stories, they must show the damage that newspapers have caused. And we have a very famous report in the United States with many others I think. Jim Risen, the reporter who the Obama administration tried to put him in prison for his national security reporting. He threatened to do it. He said he did not believe that at least in the American context the government had shown any reporting that had caused real harm to national security. This is embarrassing and is absolutely discomfort for the politicians who are responsible for abuse. Certain, but how is an entirely different question. So on the one hand we have to make the government prove their case, secondly we have to allow whistleblowers to make their case. And there are two ways, two mechanisms that are important. One should be internal to these institutions, whether they are corporations or whether they are governments, whether it’s courts, to reveal what they know and how they evaluate, even if it is against the rules, to weigh the balance between the public’s need to know and the government’s desire to keep this information secret. The government cannot simply claim that these things must be kept secret especially when they reveal violation of human rights, or laws or our values. In these cases, theses claims must be tested, they must be measured, they must be surveyed. I would argue courts are a good venue for this, unfortunately we see that national courts in the context of surveillance states, are not truly independent, they are not allowed to measure these cases. And this goes beyond the sort of discussion we are talking about today, but can we create new structures, multinational, international structures to evaluate these things? To take the best arguments of the government that have been exposed and the arguments of the journalists and their sources revealing what they believe to be serious matters of public importance and to decide in a neutral and objective manner which argument is more persuasive. Last question: Is there any ways in which we can be useful to you given your situation? I think this is a question of course about my vulnerability and the political persecution of the United States’ government. And of course the answer is the pressure to your local governments to recognize that the right to seek asylum is one that they have all agreed to under the universal declaration of human rights. The declaration of the United States government itself is a legitimate right. France, regrettably, blocked the flight of the Bolivian president Evo Morales when he was trying to return home from Russia from a conference to his country Bolivia and there was a rumor that I was on board and was being taken to Latin America to have asylum there. This is for instance why I am not able to leave Russia even today. My government has just cancelled my passport. And they worked very hard to make me not able to travel, regardless of what the law says. And they have pressured European countries to join in this kind of retaliation to send a message to everyone else working in the U.S. secret services that no matter whether what you say is right or wrong, there will be consequences, there will be a retaliation, there will be a price to pay. And I would argue this is not really about me, I’m the least important part of this. The real question is: what kind of Europe do you want to have? A Europe that stands with people like Donald Trump who attacks the press, who prosecutes dissidents, unfortunately supporting president Obama’s war on whistleblowers? Or is there a European Union that could say: our legacy, our identity is being not just the old home of progress for western civilization, but the new and endorsing voice for human rights in our modern countries. Thank you very much, Edward Snowden (Applause)

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