Snowden took far more time than was originally planned – almost two hours instead of the announced 60 minutes – to answer questions from the Twitter community. Despite this he could only answer a small fraction of the flood of questions posted under the hashtag “#AskSnowden”. He twice insisted that there is a justifiable need for intelligence agencies and surveillance. “Intelligence agencies do have a role to play” and “not all spying is bad,” according to Snowden.
Good people at the NSA and CIA
The people at the working level at the NSA, CIA or any other member of the intelligence community were described by Snowden as “good people” who are not out to spy on unsuspecting citizens. Snowden’s answers made quite the opposite clear: “They’re good people trying to do the right thing and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.”
Senior officials are to blame
Most of the blame for the surveillance scandal should be borne by “unaccountable” senior secret service officials authorizing unconstitutional programs and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court. This court, which Snowden described as a “rubber-stamp authority”, made headlines because it allegedly approved the vast majority of government surveillance requests with very few exceptions.
Billions and billions of phone and email records collected daily
It is not surveillance in general but the technical capability of indiscriminate mass surveillance that Snowden views as a modern day scourge and the biggest problem currently to be faced internationally. “Governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day.” He says the reason is that “new technologies make it easy and cheap.”
What is the worst harm from bulk collection of data asked one chat participant. According to Snowden the harm is two-fold: First, human behaviour changes under continual observation: “Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively ‘are’ less free.” Secondly, mass surveillance enables a capability called “retroactive investigation” which more or less means that the government can access a complete record of your daily activity going back years – with no probable cause and without breaking the law. Snowden explained: “You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.”
Attack from a “proud democrat”
In the live chat, Snowden also defended himself against accusations that he had stolen the log-in and password information of his co-workers. “Was the privacy of your co-workers considered while you were stealing their log-in and password information?” wrote the chat participant with the Twitter address “@MichaelHargrov1”. Snowden’s response was a short and emphatic denial that he had stolen this information. The question’s author describes himself in his Twitter account as a “proud democrat” and “supporter of President Obama”.
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