Edward Snowden said Tuesday that the National Security Agency monitored prominent human rights organizations and their staffs as part of its top secret phone and Internet surveillance program, though he did not reveal the names of any of the targeted groups.
The former NSA contractor testified before the Council of Europe, Europe's top human rights organization, based in Strasbourg, France, The Guardian
"The NSA has targeted leaders and staff members of these sorts of organizations, including domestically within the borders of the United States," Snowden told members of the European Parliament during a live video link from Moscow.
Snowden said that computer programs such as XKeyscore use sophisticated data-mining techniques to track "trillions" of private communications, and that analysts can search vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of people "without judicial approval or prior review."
"This technology offers the most significant new threat to civil liberties in the modern era," he said, according to the Guardian.
Snowden also stressed that the agency was targeting people who were not suspected of being involved in any type of questionable activities, adding that the NSA operated a "de facto policy of guilt by association."
He cited as an example that the NSA monitored the travel patterns of innocent European Union citizens who were not involved in terrorism or any wrongdoing, and that the agency routinely tracked the communications of Swiss nationals "across specific routes," the Guardian reported.
Snowden also said that others within the scope of the NSA's surveillance program included people who unintentionally clicked on certain web links, unintentionally downloaded files, and those who visited sex forums.
The EU organization invited the White House to give evidence, but the invitation was declined. The group also defended its decision to invite Snowden to testify.
"Edward Snowden has triggered a massive public debate on privacy in the Internet age. We hope to ask him what his revelations mean for ordinary users, and how they should protect their privacy, and what kind of restrictions Europe should impose on state surveillance," the Council of Europe said in a statement Monday, according to The Guardian.
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