Snowden: NSA spies on Cameron; could have ‘backdoor’ into GCHQ

Former NSA contractor and CIA employee Edward Snowden
Whistleblower Edward Snowden has criticized the UK for playing an active role in the worldwide surveillance network set up by the US National Security Agency (NSA), saying the rights and needs of British citizens are being sacrificed.

READ MORE: ‘GCHQ doesn’t spy on everyone, we don’t have enough staff’ – intelligence officer

“Why is the UK government so secretive? What is it so afraid of – its people? They are afraid of a damaging public debate,” said Snowden during a Q&A video link with London hosted by the human rights group Amnesty International.

“Because if we the public knew about what they were doing, we could bring legal public challenges against their activities and succeed… The UK government isn’t trying to preserve civil liberties, but to limit them,” he argued.


During the 40-minute session ahead of a special showing of Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning documentary about the whistleblower himself, Snowden repeatedly dismissed big-data surveillance as “ineffective” for catching terrorists, but said it allowed the government to pry into the lives of law abiding citizens.

READ MORE: 72% of Brits concerned about online privacy since Snowden leaks

“The government in the UK is actually trying to reform laws in a very negative way,” Snowden said, adding that politicians want to amend legislation to “hack into people’s computers who aren’t an intelligence target at all.”

As well as the UK government, Snowden criticized other British institutions, such as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a legal panel designed to make sure that British intelligence agencies stay within the boundaries of the law. The former NSA contractor called the tribunal “a rubberstamp court, which is not even a real court, but pretends to be one.”

READ MORE: Snowden says Australia watching its citizens ‘all the time,’ slams new metadata laws

Snowden, whose trove of data, leaked in 2013, turned the attention of the mainstream media to the topic of government surveillance, also said that UK news outlets were not doing enough.

“Tensions between the government and the public, the need for information can never be resolved by a spy agency, or even an individual citizen, but this is the role for the free press in our society.”

Yet, according to Snowden, “other than the Guardian [which published Snowden’s files], the other UK media do not investigate or develop their security agency sources, but simply call up the government and ask what is going on.”

READ MORE: UN says encryption vital to free speech, calls on US govt to end 'backdoor' push

READ MORE: GCHQ empowered to hack any device anywhere without terrorist, criminal threat – UK court doc

Snowden said the UK’s security agency, GCHQ, along with other US allies, was also irresponsible in letting the NSA install surveillance technology, and dictate how it is used.

“Even the systems that are operating in the United Kingdom are designed by the NSA, so you are getting US spy equipment placed in your country, and the government simply trusts the NSA to give them something that doesn’t have a backdoor, that they won’t use it against you,” said Snowden.

“David Cameron is in the databases alongside everybody else,”
said the whistleblower when asked about whether US agencies had access to the records of top UK public figures.

Snowden honored with freedom of expression prize

On Tuesday, Snowden was awarded the prestigious Bjornson prize by the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression. The Academy has written to the country’s government, asking that Snowden be given diplomatic protection to enable him to collect the prize in person.

READ MORE: ‘Total hero:’ Apple co-founder says Snowden gave up his life to reveal NSA surveillance

Snowden currently lives in an undisclosed location in Russia. He fled the US in the summer of 2013 and applied for asylum in over 20 countries before eventually receiving it in Russia. He is subject to extradition to the US, where he faces charges for divulging classified information.

Washington has asked Norway to refuse Snowden an invitation, while his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said the trip would be “unnecessary,” urging his client to “stay within the margins of international legal regulations.”

However, Norway’s Academy believes that it is essential to allow Snowden to come to the country and show that Oslo has its own independent political will.

READ MORE: Snowden ‘changed nothing’ says Norway’s top spy, ‘business as usual’

“I believe that the Norwegian government should show enough courage to let Snowden come to Norway and then freely return to Russia,” the Academy’s president Hege Newth Nouri told TASS.

“Members of the Norvegian government have to choose what they really want – show some independence in their policies or do what has been decided for them in the US,” said Nouri, who is also the National Coordinator for the Norwegian Cities of Refuge at Norsk PEN, the Norwegian division of the international writers’ club.