Is Europe prepared to act against government surveillance? This question was posed to the ministers at the Council of Europe whom Edward Snowden addressed recently. It was only a part of the wide-ranging presentation that the whistleblower made from his location in Russia during which he castigated America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ. He said that, at present, the NSA through its spying could acquire information on anyone and anyone that person might know.
He described the bulk data collection as a simple task for the agency- a task, he says is performed constantly. He pointed out that unless changes were made the spying would grow unchecked and affect governments as well as individual citizens. “The NSA can track entire populations of people who share only a common trait,” he said, and then added that “the infrastructure has been built and it is available to anyone”. The information apparently can be gleaned from websites visited to personal habits-including one’s sexuality. While not categorizing it yet as a nightmare scenario, he did say it posed a global problem which affects human rights everywhere.
Worrying is the observation that Snowden makes about there being little oversight of the agency. In a veiled reference to the Fisa court, he dismissed this as merely a “rubber stamp”. Snowden warned that the system was rife with manipulation and political interference and chided the NSA for using similar tactics as those employed by the UK’s GCHQ in its webcam trawls. He said that changes were in order, especially in the area of encryption and added that secure, uncrackable communications are a reality. The many users of VPNs are already availing themselves of existing technology.
Snowden defended his leaking of documents claiming he had no other legal channels available to him. He added that he had no intention of harming the US government and that his motivation was to improve government, not destroy it.
To be sure, despite being relegated to the position of pariah by the US, Edward Snowden remains a thorn in the side of the US. Just how long Snowden continues to have an audience is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, users of the internet can take advantage of options such as those offered by VPNs to safeguard their data from unwanted snooping. Are you covered or exposed?