Abby Scher on the race to elect Maine's next Governor
In a letter published online Tuesday morning, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden appealed to Brazilians, encouraging them to press on with investigations into American surveillance efforts and offering to help if he's granted permanent asylum.
"Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world," he wrote. "When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation."
Despite the startling claim, Snowden added that he could not be of any greater assistance unless he's granted "permanent political asylum." He's currently residing in Russia on a temporary visa.
Snowden's letter adds that the "culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance" finally appears to be "collapsing" thanks to mounting pressure from governments all around the world. He also hailed Brazil for pressing the U.N. on digital privacy rights, and declared: "American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens."
Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, was one of many heads of state revealed to have come under the piercing gaze of the NSA's mass surveillance program. She abruptly canceled a personal visit to Washington last September following the leak from Snowden, and her office later blamed the White House's "lack of explanations and commitments to cease interceptive activities" as the cause.
In addition, Rousseff was outspoken in her criticism of the U.S. in July, when an aircraft carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales out of Russia was forced to land due to rumors that Snowden might be onboard.
"The embarrassment to President Morales reaches not only Bolivia, but all of Latin America," a statement from her office said. "It compromises the dialogue between the two continents and possible negotiations between them. It also requires prompt and explanation by the countries involved in this provocation."
In Washington, President Barack Obama agreed Tuesday to take meetings with the leaders of over a dozen U.S. tech giants, little more than a week after the nation's leading firms turned against the NSA's vast data collection program and called for reforms.
The meeting couldn't come at a more crucial time for the NSA either, just one day out from a Washington D.C. judge's ruling that its bulk phone data collection activities are likely illegal.
"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval," U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote in a ruling issued Monday. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."
In a statement published by journalist Glenn Greenwald, Snowden called Leon's ruling "the first of many."
Photo: Flickr user Initiative Netzfreiheit, creative commons licensed.