SNOWDEN TESTIMONY TO EU: Suspicionless Surveillance Actually Makes Us Less Safe

Excerpt from Edward Snowden’s written testimony to the European Union [PDF]

Looking at the US government’s reports here is valuable. The most recent of these investigations, performed by the White House’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, determined that the mass surveillance program investigated was not only ineffective — they found it had never stopped even a single imminent terrorist attack — but that it had no basis in law. In less diplomatic language, they discovered the United States was operating an unlawful mass surveillance program, and the greatest success the program had ever produced was discovering a taxi driver in the United States transferring $ 8,500 dollars to Somalia in 2007.

After noting that even this unimpressive success – uncovering evidence of a single unlawful bank transfer — would have been achieved without bulk collection, the Board recommended that the unlawful mass surveillance program be ended. Unfortunately, we know from press reports that this program is still operating today.

I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe. By squandering precious, limited resources on “collecting it all,” we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads. I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified.

Despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications world-wide, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Underwear Bomber,” was allowed to board an airplane traveling from Europe to the United States in 2009. The 290 persons on board were not saved by mass surveillance, but by his own incompetence, when he failed to detonate the device. While even Mutallab’s own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, our resources were tied up monitoring online games and tapping German ministers…

Nor did the US government’s comprehensive monitoring of Americans at home stop the Boston Bombers. Despite the Russians specifically warning us about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the FBI couldn’t do more than a cursory investigation — although they did plenty of worthless computer-based searching – and failed to discover the plot. 264 people were injured, and 3 died. The resources that could have paid for a real investigation had been spent on monitoring the call records of everyone in America.

Hat tip: BadBlue News

Doug Ross @ Journal

EXCERPT: Live Q&A with Edward Snowden: Thursday 23-Janury

Edward Snowden:

Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary … but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.

I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.

This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.

It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me. The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance — the same way we’ve always done it — without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.

…The worst and happening-right-now harm of bulk collection — which again, is a euphemism for mass surveillance — is two-fold.

The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.

The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.

The power these records represent can’t be overstated. In fact, researchers have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in “databases of ruin,” where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without the government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently as today by the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board.

Fundamentally, a society in which the pervasive monitoring of the sum of civil activity becomes routine is turning from the traditions of liberty toward what is an inherently illiberal infrastructure of preemptive investigation, a sort of quantified state where the least of actions are measured for propriety. I don’t seek to pass judgment in favor or against such a state in the short time I have here, only to declare that it is not the one we inherited, and should we as a society embrace it, it should be the result of public decision rather than closed conference.

Excerpted from Live Q&A with Edward Snowden: Thursday 23rd January

Doug Ross @ Journal