Former CIA officer and NSA contractor Ed Snowden has taken a surprising swing at his new home, accusing Russia of ‘arbitrarily passing’ new anti-privacy laws.
The sideswipe struck an odd note in an otherwise triumphant op-ed published in the New York Times Friday, in which Snowden celebrated recent moves by Congress and the U.S. courts to end the NSA’s call-tracking program, which Snowden said followed “nearly every phone call in the United States.”
Snowden fled to Russia after exposing the scale of NSA snooping two years ago, receiving first asylum, then a three-year residency permit, from President Vladimir Putin.
However, Russia has been busy cracking down on internet and media freedoms in general since Snowden’s arrival, banning majority foreign ownership for mass media, and drafting new laws to make sure that restrictions on promoting ‘extremism’ also apply to bloggers as well as news sites and publications. Like many other countries, Russia’s also bringing a new law to force companies to store personal data on its own citizens locally. That law is due to come into force in September.
Snowden’s op-ed comes in a week that has seen key provisions of the Patriot Act, which form the legal foundation for much of the NSA’s monitoring of suspected terrorist activity, lapse after a filibuster by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul stopped them being extended.
“After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated,” Snowden wrote. “This is the power of an informed public.”
Snowden also sided, if only implicitly, with Apple Inc. Tim Cook over the development and spread of encryption tools to stop government snooping.
“Some of the world’s most popular online services have been enlisted as partners in the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, and technology companies are being pressured by governments around the world to work against their customers rather than for them,” he argued.
Snowden warned, however, that countries are still using terrorist attacks justify invasive new powers for their security services. He singled out Canada, France and Australia, and also criticised U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s declared intention to expand surveillance powers.
He made no mention of the three terrorist attacks in those countries in the last six months that claimed 15 lives. Nor did he mention the increasing body of evidence showing how organizations like Islamic State have used encrypted messaging services for the purpose of recruiting jihadis. European countries in particular are worried by the prospect of their citizens learning terror techniques in warzones such as Syria and Iraq and then returning to use them at home.