The surveillance programme code-named PRISM is said to enable the NSA to tap directly into servers of nine internet firms including Facebook and Google. Barack Obama defended the surveillance programmes as a “modest encroachment” on privacy, necessary to protect the US from terrorist attacks.
Former CIA employee Edward Snowden has admitted he is the source of leaks about US surveillance programmes which have rocked the country’s National Security Agency, Euronews reports. Snowden said in an interview with ‘The Guardian’, he had acted out of conscience to protect ‘basic liberties for people around the world”. “When you see everything, you see them on a more frequent basis and you recognise that some of these things are actually abuses. But over time, that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about. And the more you talk about it, the more you’re ignored , the more you’re told it’s not a problem, until eventually you realise that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who’s simply hired by the government,” said Snowden speaking from a hotel in Hong Kong to where he fled after he allegedly copied the secret documents.
Edward Snowden, 29, is described by the paper as an ex-CIA technical assistant, currently employed by defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, the BBC reports. The Guardian said his identity was being revealed at his own request.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the matter had now been referred to the Department of Justice as a criminal matter. He told the paper that the extent of US surveillance was “horrifying”, adding: “We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.” He added: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.” Mr Snowden said he did not believe he had committed a crime: “We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me.” Asked what he thought would happen to him, he replied: “Nothing good.”
Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty with the US shortly before the territory returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. However, Beijing can block any extradition if it believes it affects national defence or foreign policy issues. Mr Snowden has expressed an interest in seeking asylum in Iceland. However, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted Iceland’s ambassador to China as saying that “according to Icelandic law a person can only submit such an application once he/she is in Iceland”.
In a statement, Booz Allen Hamilton confirmed Mr Snowden had been an employee for less than three months. “If accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm,” the statement said.
The first of the leaks came out on Wednesday night, when the Guardian reported a US secret court had ordered phone company Verizon to hand over to the National Security Agency (NSA) millions of records on telephone call “metadata”. The metadata include the numbers of both phones on a call, its duration, time, date and location (for mobiles, determined by which mobile signal towers relayed the call or text).
Prism is said to give the NSA and FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) access to emails, web chats and other communications directly from the servers of major US internet companies. The data are used to track foreign nationals suspected of terrorism or spying. The NSA is also collecting the telephone records of American customers, but not recording the content of their calls. Prism was authorised under changes to US surveillance laws passed under President George W Bush and renewed last year under Barack Obama. On Friday, Mr Obama defended the surveillance programmes as a “modest encroachment” on privacy, necessary to protect the US from terrorist attacks. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about,” he said, emphasising that the programmes were authorised by Congress.