When Edward Snowden alerted the media to the extent of global intelligence surveillance programmes in 2013, he sparked investigations and debate into the gathering of data by intelligence agencies worldwide. He is now contributing to the debate again, submitting written testimony (the Statement) to the investigation of the EU Committee on Civil Liberties (the Committee).
The Committee’s investigation has involved a broad examination of the ways in which data on EU citizens is collected by both American agencies and agencies in its own “back yard”. In January, the Committee released a draft report on the investigation, with MEPs condemning the “vast, systematic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people”.
In the Statement, Snowden explains the extent of the data gathered by agencies, stating that while working for the NSA, he could “read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen”. Snowden criticises the use of resources to fund mass, suspicionless surveillance at the cost of “traditional, proven methods”, citing a number of examples of incidents that have not been prevented despite the use of mass surveillance.
The Statement also contains details of cooperation between EU Member States and the NSA’s Foreign Affairs Directorate (FAD), stating that FAD systematically attempts to influence legal reform across the EU. When successful, Snowden claims that FAD encourages states to perform “access operations” which allow it to gain access to bulk communications of telecoms providers within the jurisdiction.
In relation to whistleblowing within intelligence agencies, Snowden points out that the current legal protections in the United States do not apply to the employees of private companies and therefore do not provide a satisfactory level of protection to concerned individuals employed by such organisations. In addition, the Statement indicates that raising concerns internally is ineffective as other employees are fearful of the consequences that may follow.
For businesses, Snowden’s remarks when questioned about industrial espionage are likely to be the most interesting. Snowden states that the fact that “a major goal of the US Intelligence Community is to produce economic intelligence is the worst kept secret in Washington”. In addition, the Statement points out that evidence of industrial espionage can be seen in the press, with an example being recent reports that GCHQ successfully targeted a Yahoo service to gain access to the webcams of devices within citizens’ homes.
The Statement paints a concerning picture of the way in which politics influence the level of protection given to citizens. As Snowden points out, the Statement is limited to information that has already entered the public domain, and so it is unlikely to impact the Committee’s findings. However, with the European Parliament scheduled to vote on the draft data protection regulation and Safe Harbor Program, it will intensify analysis of the legal reforms being implemented in Brussels.