The National Security Agency is hurting the US economy with its "dragnet" surveillance, says uber-leaker Edward Snowden.
Snowden made his remarks at an event in Russia last week, footage of which surfaced on Monday. He also alleged, via The Washington Post, that the NSA has been slurping the contents of some 250 million electronic address books a year.
"These [surveillance] programs don’t make us more safe. They hurt our economy. They hurt our country. They limit our ability to speak and think and to live and be creative, to have relationships, to associate freely," said Snowden, who has been accused of aiding terrorists and America's enemies. The footage of his speech appeared on Democracy Now.
One such program is a scheme that sees the secretive agency collect the contact books associated with widely used email services, such as Hotmail and Gmail, and instant-messaging clients such as Yahoo! Messenger, according to The Washington Post on Monday.
The agency grabs this data as it passes over major internet transit points, so it does not need to slurp it from internal Google or Yahoo! servers and therefore doesn't need to make an official request for the information.
Major web providers are thought to have added SSL encryption to their services in response to programs like this, but there is evidence the NSA has been trying to smash internet encryption by performing man-in-the-middle attacks using compromised cryptographic certificates.
Though the NSA insists that American citizens are not specifically targeted, it does proactively collect network traffic from numerous international arteries, such as submarine cables connecting up continents. If traffic passes through these inspection points, then the agency slurps the data indiscriminately.
"The assumption is you're not a U.S. person," one spy source told The Washington Post. As Reg readers know, this is a rather strange way to view intercepted communications.
Snowden said: "There's a far cry between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement, where it's targeted, it's based on reasonable suspicion and individualized suspicion and warranted action, and sort of dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under sort of an eye that sees everything, even when it's not needed."
We imagine the NSA would bridle at this description, given the shadowy organization's recent claim that it isn't spying on digital interactions, rather it is "seeking to understand online communication tools & technologies".
Just as Uncle Sam's spooks are trying to understand what we do online, Snowden says in his speech that he felt compelled to leak the information on the programs so citizens can do the same.
"If we can’t understand the policies and programs of our government, we cannot grant our consent in regulating them," he said. ®