Snowden: Modern Surveillance Targeting Whole Populations - Not Just Individuals

Whistleblower Edward Snowden addresses conference on intelligence gathering by video link from Moscow.

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Edward Snowden
Edward SnowdenCredit: AFP

Entire populations - not just individuals - now live under constant surveillance, U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden said on Saturday, according to a report released in The Guardian.

Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, appeared over video link at a Toronto debate on the NSA's intelligence gathering operations.

The debate pitted former NSA director General Michael Hayden and Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz against Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Glen Greenwald, who published many of Snowden's revelations, and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian over government surveillance.

“It's no longer based on the traditional practice of targeted taps based on some individual suspicion of wrongdoing,” said Snowden, who currently resides in Moscow after the U.S. issued an extradition order against him. “It covers phone calls, emails, texts, search history, what you buy, who your friends are, where you go, who you love.”

The debate on the subject, “be it resolved state surveillance is a legitimate defense of our freedoms,” was opened by Greenwald, who condemned the NSA’s own slogan, which he said appears repeatedly throughout its own documents: “Collect it all.”

“What is state surveillance?” Greenwald asked. “If it were about targeting in a discriminate way against those causing harm, there would be no debate.

“The actual system of state surveillance has almost nothing to do with that. What state surveillance actually is, is defended by the NSA's actual words, that phrase they use over and over again: 'Collect it all.’ ”

“Collect it all doesn't mean collect it all!” Hayden responded, drawing laughter.
Dershowitz and Hayden spent much of the debate denying that the pervasive surveillance systems described by Snowden and Greenwald even exist and arguing that that surveillance programs are necessary to prevent terrorism.

The two sides differed over whether the present level of metadata collection might have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Hayden argued that intelligence analysts would have noticed the number of telephone calls between the U.S. and the Middle East and caught the terrorists, while Greenwald argued that one of the primary reasons the US authorities failed to prevent the attacks was because they were taking in too much information to accurately sort through it all.

Before the debate began, 33% of the audience voted in favor of the statement and 46% voted against. It closed with 59% of the audience siding with Greenwald and Ohanian.