Snowden condemns proposed UK surveillance law

NSA whistleblower says emergency Bill being pushed through parliament ‘defies belief’

Edward Snowden participating, via a video link from Moscow, in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) hearing at the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg on June 24th 2014. Photograph: Council of Europe/EPA

Edward Snowden participating, via a video link from Moscow, in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) hearing at the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg on June 24th 2014. Photograph: Council of Europe/EPA

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 08:42

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has condemned the new surveillance bill being pushed through the British parliament this week, expressing concern about the speed at which it is being done, a lack of public debate, fear-mongering, and what he described as increased powers of intrusion.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Moscow, Snowden said it was very unusual for a public body to pass an emergency law such as this in circumstances other than a time of total war. “I mean, we don’t have bombs falling. We don’t have U-boats in the harbour.”

It is suddenly a priority, he said, after the government had ignored it for an entire year. “It defies belief.”

He found the urgency with which the British government was moving extraordinary and said it mirrored a similar move in the US in 2007 when the Bush administration was forced to introduce legislation, the Protect America Act, citing the same concerns about terrorist threats and the NSA losing cooperation from telecoms and internet companies.

“I mean, the NSA could have written this draft,” he said. “They passed it under the same sort of emergency justification. They said we would be at risk. They said companies will no longer cooperate with us. We’re losing valuable intelligence that puts the nation at risk.”

His comments chime with British civil liberties groups who, having had time to read the small print, are increasingly sceptical about the government’s claims last week that the bill is a stop-gap that will not increase the powers of the surveillance agencies.

British prime minister David Cameron, searching for cross-party support, assured the Lib Dems and Labour that there would be no extension of the powers. But internal Home Office papers seen by the Guardian appear to confirm that there would be an expansion of powers.

Campaigners argue that the bill contains new and unprecedented powers for the UK to require overseas companies to comply with interception warrants and communications data acquisition requests and build interception capabilities into their products and infrastructure.

Snowden spoke in a seven-hour interview at a city-centre hotel. One of only a handful of interviews since he sought asylum in Russia a year ago, it was wide-ranging, from the impact of the global debate he unleashed on surveillance and privacy to fresh insights into life inside the NSA. The full interview will be published later this week.

His year-long asylum is due to expire on July 31st but is almost certain to be extended. Even in the unlikely event of a political decision to send him to the US, he would be entitled to a year-long appeal.

During the interview, Snowden was taken aback on learning about the speed at which the British government is moving on new legislation and described it as “a significant change”. He questioned why it was doing so now, more than a year after his initial revelations about the scale of government surveillance in the US, the UK and elsewhere around the world, a year in which the government had been largely silent.

He also questioned why there had been a move in the aftermath of a ruling by the European court of justice in April that declared some of the existing surveillance measures were invalid.

He said the government was asking for these “new authorities immediately without any debate, just taking their word for it, despite the fact that these exact same authorities were just declared unlawful by the European court of justice”.