Sunday

25th Jul 2021

Snowden to EU: Whistleblowers need protection

  • MEPs were told that Obama has indicted more people under the Espionage Act than all previous US presidents combined (Photo: Luc Mercelis)

Surveillance of whole populations is one of the greatest challenges facing human rights, former NSA agent Edward Snowden told the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee at a hearing on whistleblowers.

In a statement, read out to the committee on Monday (30 September) by former whistleblower Jesseyln Radack, Snowden said public debate on mass surveillance should not have to rely on the persecution and exile of people willing to leak information to the public.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“If we are to enjoy such debates in the future, we cannot rely on individual sacrifice, we must create better channels for people of conscience to better inform not only trusted agents of government but independent representatives of the public outside of government,” he said.

He noted that a culture of secrecy has denied society the opportunity to determine the appropriate balance between the fundamental right to privacy and government-led probes into suspected terrorists and their activities.

Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia, said he leaked the US' National Security Agency (NSA) files to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers over the summer in order to expose the scale of the surveillance and to launch a debate about change.

His actions are seen as partly successful in the US, where privacy rights advocates say moral outrage is pushing lawmakers to reconsider the power and scope of a government which has spent some $500 billion on surveillance since 9-11.

Marc Rotenberg, the head of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC), told the committee: “It gives me hope, at least with the conduct in the US, that there are going to be changes."

Rotenberg warned MEPs the possible changes to limit NSA snooping would only extend to US citizens and US territory, however.

He said US-led surveillance on EU citizens would continue since there is no real debate or pressure in the US on the scope of NSA activities outside its national borders.

He suggested the EU suspends ongoing free trade negotiations in an effort to pressure the Americans into taking EU data privacy concerns more seriously.

Also present at the hearing was Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA until 2008.

Drake was a whistleblower at two 9-11 congressional investigations in 2002.

He also exposed fraud and abuse at the NSA during an agency audit from 2003 to 2005 on the so-called Trailblazer collection data programme which was then under development.

He went to the press in 2006 and was later raided by the FBI.

“Rather than address the illegality and wrongdoing, the government made me a target of a huge federal criminal leak investigation into the exposure of secret surveillance programmes and subjected me to severe retaliation, reprisal and retribution,” he said.

Drake was forced out of his job and blacklisted. Unemployed, his attorney fees forced him to take out a second mortgage on his house and spend all his personal savings.

“What I experienced as a whistleblower, sends the most chilling of messages about what the government can and will do, when one speaks truth to a power - a direct form of political repression and censorship,” he said.

Drake flew sorties as a crypto-linguist on reconnaissance aircrafts over Europe during the latter years of the Cold War. His primary target was East Germany, where the secret police, the Stasi, used surveillance to seek out possible dissidents and defectors.

“I never imagined the US would use the Stasi-playbook as a template for its own state-sponsored surveillance regime,” he told MEPs.

He said national security services which deliberately compromise information technologies and protocols undermine the sovereignty of the state and its citizens.

“The US government has routinely violated, on a vast industrial scale, the constitutional protections afforded to its own citizens while also disregarding the internal integrity of other states and the fundamental rights of non-US citizens,” he noted.

Drake was indicted in 2010 under US President Barack Obama’s administration on criminal charges for leaking information on NSA operations. He faced 35 years in jail before all charges were dropped in 2011.

The government’s prosecution against Drake collapsed, but it continued to indict national security and intelligence community whistleblowers for espionage.

“Employers in these communities have no whistleblower protections,” said Jesseyln Radack, who leads the US-based Government Accountability Project to protect whistleblowers.

“In less than a year, President Obama indicted more people under the Espionage Act, most of whom are whistleblowers, than all previous Presidents combined,” she said.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

News in Brief

  1. Macron changes phone after Pegasus spyware revelations
  2. Italy to impose 'vaccinated-only' entry on indoor entertainment
  3. EU 'will not renegotiate' Irish protocol
  4. Brussels migrants end hunger strike
  5. Elderly EU nationals in UK-status limbo after missed deadline
  6. WHO: 11bn doses needed to reach global vaccination target
  7. EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021
  8. Spain ends outdoor mask-wearing despite surge

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Far left and right MEPs less critical of China and Russia
  2. Why is offshore wind the 'Cinderella' of EU climate policy?
  3. Open letter from 30 embassies ahead of Budapest Pride
  4. Orbán counters EU by calling referendum on anti-LGBTI law
  5. Why aren't EU's CSDP missions working?
  6. Romania most keen to join eurozone
  7. Slovenia risks court over EU anti-graft office
  8. Sweden's gang and gun violence sets politicians bickering

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us