Snowden talks NSA surveillance reform, reveals Papa John’s exists in Russia

A picture of Edward Snowden. (Reuters/Jason Lee)
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden took to Reddit Thursday, once again answering questions about surveillance reform, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s 10-hour filibuster, and whether or not he misses pizza in Russia.

Snowden answered numerous questions during a Reddit AUA, or “Ask Us Anything,” which he participated in alongside American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer. Snowden was asked how he felt seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul stage a filibuster for almost half a day in an attempt to block a clean renewal of the Patriot Act, which the NSA has used to justify collecting Americans’ telephone data in bulk.

“It represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate,” he responded. “Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it’s important to remember that when he took the floor to say ‘No’ to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans – more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.”

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The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, which would reform the way the NSA gains access to data. It would still allow intelligence officials to view metadata – the time that a call was made, to whom it was made, but not the actual content – but they would be required to submit keywords to phone companies in order to do so.

Some have hailed this development as an important step towards reforming NSA surveillance, while others claim the keywords can be so broad that bulk collection would still happen. Even if it passes, however, the language generally concerns one portion of the Patriot Act, called Section 215.

One Reddit user asked Snowden if the NSA may revert to surveillance regardless, without informing lawmakers or oversight bodies.

“That's no excuse for the public or Congress to turn a blind eye to unlawful or immoral operations – and the kind of mass surveillance happening under Section 215 of the Patriot Act right now is very much unlawful: the Courts ruled just two weeks ago that not only are these activities illegal, but they have been since the day the programs began,” Snowden replied.

Asked what should be reformed after Section 215, if it is indeed altered by Congress, Snowden pointed to a couple of different items.

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“Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act conceals some of the worst mass surveillance operations,” he said. “In basic terms, the government here prefers to ignore that the 4th Amendment prohibits not just the unwarranted search of private records, but also the initial seizure of them as well. I suspect that's likely to haunt not only them, but all of us as well.”

Snowden also pointed to Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which requires government agencies to comply with data requests made by the CIA. He said the order, which has been used to justify the collection of unencrypted material, is a “skeleton in the closet,” but that changing it will be hard “because the White House argues these operations are simply above the law and cannot be regulated by congress or the courts.”

On a more lighthearted note, when asked whether he missed eating pizza by a user who apparently didn’t know there actually was pizza in Russia, Snowden responded:

“This guy gets it,” Snowden said. “Russia has Papa John’s. For real.”