Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the National Security Agency's Internet-tapping PRISM program last week, said he did so to protect "basic liberties for people around the world."
On Thursday, the Washington Post and the Guardian broke the story that the U.S. government instituted a program in 2007 called PRISM, which essentially serves as an Internet wiretap, allowing them to record audio, video, photographs, chats, emails, documents, and connection logs from virtually every major tech company, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.
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On Monday, the Guardian revealed the identity of the person who leaked information about PRISM — Edward Snowden.
Snowden, 29, a former CIA employee who now works for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for NSA, has fled to Hong Kong but sat down with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald and explained at length what his motivations were for spilling one of the government's closely guarded secret programs.
Why did you choose to reveal your identity?
I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people that make these disclosures. I'm no different from anybody else. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening and goes, this is something that's not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong. And I'm willing to go on the record.
Why did you step forward as the whistleblower on the PRISM program?
When you're in positions of privileged access, you're exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee and, because of that, you see things that may be disturbing. When you see them on a more frequent basis, you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses. And when you talk to people about them in a place like this where this is the normal state of business, people tend not to take them very seriously. But, over time, that awareness of wrongdoing build up and you feel compelled to talk about it.
Are you scared you'll be in trouble with the U.S. government?
You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they're such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you in time.
Why did you flee to Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech. I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to other, leading western governments.
Could you have sold the information or used it to harm the U.S.?
Absolutely. Anybody in the position of access with the technical capabilities that I had could suck out secrets and pass them on the open market to Russia. I had access of the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth. If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon but that's not my intention.
Now that the information is out, what do you fear will happen?
The greatest fear I have regarding the outcome for America is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths the government is going to go to grant themselves power unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.
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