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“Edward Snowden Has Done This Country a Service”: ACLU Praises Leaker for Kick-Starting NSA Debate

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As Edward Snowden’s father, Lon, arrives in Moscow to try to visit his son, we speak to American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero about Snowden and the significance of his leaks about the National Security Agency. “Edward Snowden has done this country a service,” Romero says. “He has kick-started a debate that we didn’t have. This debate was anemic.” Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights adds, “We are all affected by the NSA program. We cannot do our work in Egypt, in Canada or Israel or Kenya when we cannot communicate, when we know our emails could be intercepted by the United States security apparatus.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of surveillance as a form of repression, is the ACLU representing Ed Snowden?

ANTHONY ROMERO: We are in contact with Edward Snowden—excuse me. And, actually, I can’t say too much about it publicly. He is someone that—we have known Glenn Greenwald for a number of years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the government knows everything about it.

ANTHONY ROMERO: Oh, well, that’s—we try our best. We bought a new laptop with encryption devices, that we think they probably have a way to hack into. Look, I think Edward Snowden has done this country a service. I said this at the Aspen Security Forum. I was on the panel with Jeh Johnson, the former general counsel of Department of Defense; with Jane Harman. You would have thought I was an anarchist, when I said that regardless of whether or not what he did was legal or illegal, whether or not we think the sedition laws or the espionage laws that are being used to possibly prosecute Snowden are too broad, the fact is that he has kick-started a debate that we did not have. This debate was anemic. Everyone was asleep at the switch.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the Obama administration absolutely denied, to the point of Clapper perjuring himself before Congress, saying they weren’t spying on Americans.

ANTHONY ROMERO: “We do not collect data on Americans.”

AMY GOODMAN: And only when the documents, the actual documents, were presented—so, the Obama administration encourages people to get the documents and show them—were they forced to back off.

ANTHONY ROMERO: And if we had had this revelation of the NSA programs—the PRISM, the Section 702 program through the PATRIOT Act—if this had occurred under the George Bush administration, there would be such an outcry among your viewers, among our members, among the general public. But because it’s President Obama, and because he has done some very good things on things like gay rights and voting rights—I give him credit for that—but because these policies and programs have been announced under his presidency, people begin to accept them a little bit more.

And they’re even more pernicious, because as they get established under this presidency, this power of surveillance, to be able to track the phone calls of all people in America, incoming and outgoing, how long your phone call, who you receive a phone call from, who you make a phone call to—metadata is very personal, identifiable information; you can learn a lot about a person from, quote, “metadata”—the questions about being able to track the emails that we send from here overseas—who do we have as president in two years? If we have a, you know, Ted Cruz or Mitt Romney, how are we to be secure that that data, that trove of lawful American activity, doesn’t begin to be used in more pernicious ways? And so I think it’s a real mistake for us to heed—

AMY GOODMAN: Or how do you know it’s not happening right now?

ANTHONY ROMERO: Yeah, well, we think it’s happening right now, in fact.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hossam, I’m interested, the revelations on—of Snowden and the extensive, the massive amount of surveillance, not only within the U.S., but in other countries, by the NSA, what’s been the impact in places like Egypt of these revelations?

HOSSAM BAHGAT: There is a huge, of course, spillover effect. I mean, you see it most prominently in places like Brazil, of course, because it turns out that some of the surveillance particularly targeted the president and some of her communication as well as businesses. But we also see it in the U.K. because of the revelation about the collaboration, the sharing of this information with Israel. It has prompted multiple lawsuits that are seeking some clarity.

But it’s also important to note that it has pushed some of the telecommunication and Internet providers to have at least some—some more transparency. They have all gone public. So now, for instance, we know how many requests Facebook and Twitter and others received from the Egyptian government in the last six months, how many of them were actually accepted. And—but we don’t know which one—which accounts, of course, were monitored and which information was provided to the Egyptian government.

It’s important to note that before the Snowden revelations, this is something that we have all been concerned about. We all came together. The same 10 organizations in the International Network for Civil Liberties Organizations that produced this protest report came together to support a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against Clapper, again, on the NSA surveillance. And we all worked together on an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, saying that we are all affected by the NSA program. We cannot do our work in Egypt or in Canada or in Israel or in Kenya when we cannot communicate, when we know that our emails could be intercepted by the United States’ security apparatus. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not find that our claim was compelling enough. But we hope that, precisely as Anthony said, because of this huge outcry over the Snowden revelations, the U.S. judiciary is going to start looking differently at this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, and we’re certainly going to link to the report. We want to thank Abby Deshman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; Hossam Bahgat, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; and Anthony Romero, head of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’re going right to the Capitol, where the government is shut down, at least partially. We’re going to speak with the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona. Stay with us.

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