TIME cybersecurity

Edward Snowden Answered the Question We’ve All Been Wondering

The New Yorker Festival 2014 - Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer
Bryan Bedder—Getty Images for The New Yorker General view of atmosphre at Edward Snowden Interviewed by Jane Mayer at the MasterCard stage at SVA Theatre during The New Yorker Festival 2014 on October 11, 2014 in New York City.

He talked about Rand Paul, too

In case you were curious, Edward Snowden still enjoys pizza in Russia.

“Do you miss pizza? Favorite thing about Russia so far? If you could be an insect, which would you be and why?” a Reddit user asked Snowden in a recent AMA, or “Ask Me Anything.” Snowden’s response was short and sweet: “This guy gets it. Russia has Papa John’s. For real.”

But Snowden also took the opportunity to answer questions on more serious subjects. After all, the conversation was centered around Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That’s one section Snowden brought to the public’s attention in 2013 when he leaked information about the NSA’s telephone records collection program.

Snowden took the AMA opportunity to respond to a question about Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster against the Patriot Act. Snowden wrote:

It represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it’s important to remember that when he took the floor to say “No” to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans — more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.

Snowden conducted the Reddit conversation along with Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU.

TIME National Security

Court Rules Against NSA’s Bulk Collection of Phone Records

This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.
NSA/Getty Images This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

The Patriot Act "cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it," the court said

The National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone call records without a search warrant is illegal, an appeals court ruled on Thursday.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said the practice, largely exposed to the public by the Edward Snowden leaks two years ago, is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act passed by Congress, as the government claims.

The decision returned the case, brought by civil rights groups, to a lower court judge. But it neither ordered the data collection to stop immediately nor passed judgement on the constitutionality of the data collection, saying that Congress could still try to pass a measure that does sanction the practice.

“We hold that the text of § 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” the court wrote in its ruling.

The ruling comes as Congress considers whether to extend the Patriot Act by June, including with potential revisions to limit the government’s data collection. Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case, said in a statement that Thursday’s ruling should guide that process.

“The current reform proposals from Congress look anemic in light of the serious issues raised by the Second Circuit,” Romero said. “Congress needs to up its reform game if it’s going to address the court’s concerns.”

In a statement to TIME, National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said it was still evaluating the decision.

“Without commenting on the ruling today, the President has been clear that he believes we should end the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it currently exists by creating an alternative mechanism to preserve the program’s essential capabilities without the government holding the bulk data,” Price said. “We continue to work closely with members of Congress from both parties to do just that, and we have been encouraged by good progress on bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would implement these important reforms.”

TIME Television

Watch John Oliver Tell Edward Snowden No One Knows Who He Is

Oliver also talked to Snowden about your naked pictures.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden says his disclosure of government surveillance activities have been vindicated by American awareness of the issue. John Oliver says, eh, not so much.

“I think we’re seeing something amazing, which is that if you ask the American people to make tough decisions to confront tough issues to think about hard problems, they’ll actually surprise you,” Snowden said in an interview with Oliver in Russia for Last Week Tonight.

“OK, here’s the problem,” Oliver responds. “I did ask some Americans, and boy, did it surprise me.” He went on to play clips of Americans befuddled by questions about who Snowden is.

Oliver also talked to Snowden about your naked pictures. Watch the full segment below:

Read next: Watch Norman Reedus and His Crossbow Crash SNL‘s Weekend Update

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

 

TIME celebrities

Shailene Woodley Calls Edward Snowden a ‘Hero’

2014 GQ Men Of The Year Party
Jon Kopaloff—FilmMagic/Getty Images Actress Shailene Woodley arrives at the 2014 GQ Men Of The Year Party at Chateau Marmont on December 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

The actress plays his girlfriend in the upcoming biopic Snowden

In keeping with her character in the upcoming biopic Snowden, Shailene Woodley has said that she considers notorious leaker Edward Snowden “a hero.”

The Insurgent actress told E! Online that if she could talk to Snowden herself, she would say, “You are the epitome of the word selfless … So I would like [to] say thank you.”

Woodley plays Lindsay Mills in the Oliver Stone-directed film; she had to take pole-dancing classes for certain scenes as Snowden’s girlfriend. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who released a photo of himself in character last week on Facebook.

While Edward Snowden is staying in Moscow for the time being, the real Lindsay Mills attended the Academy Awards in Los Angeles last month and appeared onstage when Citizenfour won Best Documentary. Afterwards, host Neil Patrick Harris explained, “Edward Snowden couldn’t be here, for some treason.”

TIME movies

Here’s Your First Look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden

The actor shared a photo of himself as Snowden in basic training

If you’re looking for Oscar bait, taking a starring role in a biopic is usually a safe bet — even if the subject is one of the most controversial men alive. Joseph Gordon-Levitt likely had this in mind when he signed on for Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone and slated for a December release. The Inception actor released the first photograph of himself in costume on Facebook Tuesday, and if appearances are everything, it looks like the casting director made the right choice.

In his post, Gordon-Levitt said he was surprised when he learned Edward Snowden had enlisted in the army in 2004, but was discharged after breaking both legs in basic training. “After that,” the actor wrote, “he was still determined to serve his country (love him or hate him, you gotta admit the guy’s strong-willed) and so he ended up getting a job at the CIA, which is where his career in Intelligence began.”

The real-life Snowden’s lawyer announced Tuesday that the former NSA contractor is considering a return to the U.S. if he’s guaranteed a fair trial. But JGL is busy in the fictional Snowden’s early days, writing, “I’m just honored and excited to be doing a soldier sequence with Oliver. I keep saying to myself: “f-, this guy directed Platoon!”

Read next: Watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt Explain Why He’s a Feminist in a Truly Thoughtful Way

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME celebrities

Edward Snowden Laughed Off Neil Patrick Harris’ ‘Treason’ Joke

He didn't mind the host's jab

Citizenfour, the documentary about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards on Sunday night. But the film’s win has been somewhat eclipsed by one of host Neil Patrick Harris’ jokes about the movie’s controversial subject.

After Citizenfour director Laura Poitras accepted the award on stage (along with journalist and lawyer Glenn Greenwald, the film’s editor and one of its producers), Harris remarked, “The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.” Plenty of supporters of Snowden, whose charges don’t actually include treason, weren’t impressed by the pun and voiced their disappointment on Twitter.

Snowden himself, however, appears to have taken it in stride. “To be honest, I laughed at NPH,” Snowden wrote in a question-and-answer session on reddit following the movie’s win. “I don’t think it was meant as a political statement, but even if it was, that’s not so bad. My perspective is if you’re not willing to be called a few names to help out your country, you don’t care enough.”

TIME movies

Citizenfour Wins Best Documentary at the Oscars

"The most important decisions being made in secret affect all of us," said Poitras

One of the most talked-about documentaries in recent memory now has an Oscar to its credit.

Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s account of her work with NSA leaker Edward Snowden, won the Best Documentary Feature prize, making for an increasingly rare win for a film about a political subject. (The most recent two Best Documentary winners, Searching for Sugar Man and 20 Feet from Stardom, were about underheralded musicians.) Poitras, with journalists from the Washington Post and The Guardian, won a Pulitzer Prize last year for her work in documenting and publicizing Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance of civilians; her film takes the viewer back to the moments immediately before Snowden went public, in which he attempted to evade detection and potential imprisonment and came to terms with the fact that he would never live a normal life again.

“I was a participant as much as a documentarian,” Poitras told TIME when Citizenfour was released. In her speech, Poitras said: “The most important decisions being made in secret affect all of us.”

 

TIME intelligence

New NSA Privacy Chief Promises Transparency

NSA Surveillance-Privacy Report
Patrick Semansky—AP The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md., June 6, 2013.

In a Q&A online, Rebecca Richards promised a new era in transparency at the United States’ eavesdropping agency

The National Security Agency’s newly appointed Civil Liberties & Privacy Officer Rebecca Richards said Monday in an online Q& A she hopes to inject a sense of transparency into the secretive spy agency.

“Until somewhat recently, relatively little information about NSA was public. And the information that was made available rarely discussed the safeguards in place to protect civil liberties and privacy,” Richards said. “One of my goals is to share what NSA does to protect civil liberties and privacy. This will take time, but we must start somewhere.”

Richards conducted an online question and answer session Monday through the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Richards position was create earlier this year following recommendations from the White House on privacy reforms within the NSA. Those recommendations were made in response to revelations of privacy violations contained in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Much of her Q&A was little more than a defense of the agency but Richards did identify her four primary goals as privacy chief.

  1. Advise NSA leadership including the director.
  2. Build systematic and holistic civil liberties and privacy processes.
  3. Improve civil liberties and privacy protections through research, education, and training.
  4. Increase transparency.

Richards also revealed that the NSA is preparing to launch a privacy and civil liberties internship or work exchange program as part of its privacy initiative.

TIME intelligence

Tech Firms Push NSA Reform Bill as Senate Vote Approaches

The USA FREEDOM Act still faces challenges from both sides

In an open letter to U.S. Senators a powerful coalition of technology companies including Google, Apple, Facebook and others called for passage of the USA FREEDOM Act surveillance reform package as Sen. Harry Reid scheduled a vote to advance the measure Tuesday.

“The Senate has the opportunity to send a strong message of change to the world and encourage other countries to adopt similar protections,” wrote CEOs of the companies comprising the Reform Government Surveillance coalition. The CEOs called the bill “bipartisan” and said it “protects national security and reaffirms America’s commitment to the freedoms we all cherish.” Signatories to the letter include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Larry Page, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Twitter’s Dick Costolo and others.

The USA FREEDOM Act is a package of changes to the way the U.S. National Security Agency conducts mass surveillance of American citizens chiefly sponsored by Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D—VT). Debate over the issue accelerated a year and a half ago after leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed vast non-public surveillance programs and duplicity on the part of some officials about the extent of the programs.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D—Nevada) called for a cloture vote on Tuesday to end debate. Cloture requires a 60-vote majority is likely to be the biggest hurdle the legislation would face on its path out of Congress.

Though major interest groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the President’s own surveillance reform task force have backed the compromise legislation passage is anything but certain. Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D—CA) is reported to have reservations about the bill and other surveillance hawks have expressed outright hostility toward the measure. On the other side of the issue, libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul has said he will oppose the bill for not going far enough to rein the NSA.

In current form the bill puts new limits on the NSA’s ability legally to gather up bulk U.S. phone meta-data and installs special privacy advocates in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the body that oversees and authorizes NSA activities. The measure also forbids the NSA from storing data it collects in its own computers, instead requiring telecom companies to retain the data for up to five years. Some critics say the measure puts onerous restrictions on the NSA’s ability to protect Americans from harm. Others say the bill actually codifies and formalizes surveillance practices that once existed in a legal grey area.

“This is a first step in surveillance reform. This is by no means the whole kit and caboodle,” Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office Laura Murphy tells TIME. “For over the last decade we’ve been empowering government with more and more capabilities to surveil with less and less protections for its citizens. This legisaition would mark a departure from the trajectory since 9-11. We think it’s a very important first step.”

TIME movies

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Will Play Edward Snowden in New Movie

"White Bird In A Blizzard" - Los Angeles Premiere
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt attends the premiere of "White Bird in a Blizzard" at ArcLight Hollywood on October 21, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

Backers confirm the casting choice

Producers confirmed Monday that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Edward Snowden in the Oliver Stone movie set to start shooting in Munich in January.

The casting choice has been rumored since September, but was finally confirmed today, just two months before the film is set to begin filming, the Guardian reports.

Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay based on two books about Snowden and NSA surveillance (The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena) and reportedly sought out independent production companies Open Road and Endgame in order to protect the production from political pressures.

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