US still intercepts intimate emails: Edward Snowden warns on Last Week Tonight

  • AFP, Washington
  • Updated: Apr 07, 2015 16:15 IST

Former National Securiy Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden said on The Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that US continues to intercept private emails and online data. Snowden appeared on the US comedy news show on Sunday.

British television host John Oliver scored a rare one-on-one interview in Moscow with the fugitive intelligence technician for his weekly US cable comedy news show. And this episode, for sure was no comedy show.

Speaking to Snowden, John Oliver claimed that the improper redaction of a document by the New York Times exposed intelligence activity against al-Qaida. "That is a problem," Snowden replied. "Well, that's a f***-up," Oliver shot back, forcing Snowden to agree."It is a f***-up," Snowden replied, adding, "Those things do happen in reporting. In journalism we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty." "But you have to own that then," Oliver replied. "You're giving documents with information that you know could be harmful which could get out there ... We're not even talking about bad faith, we're talking about incompetence."

When Oliver asked Snowden if read the papers he leaked, the latter replied, "I understand what I turned over," and the host said there is a difference between "understanding and reading".

Oliver didn't give the man behind one of the biggest leaks in US intelligence history an easy ride, insisting he must take responsibility for information in press reports that put current anti-terror operations in jeopardy. But he also expressed sympathy with Snowden's efforts to trigger a public debate about the balance to be struck in a free society between the security provided by blanket surveillance and the public's right to privacy.

Oliver suggested a crude but perhaps effective way to focus public attention on the issue. "This is the most visible line in the sand for people: 'Can they see my d***?'" Oliver said, suggesting that the NSA's Internet surveillance could intercept emailed photographs of a private or sexual nature. Snowden laughed but played along with the line of thought, describing in some detail how the various intelligence gathering authorities and techniques that he revealed in a trove of leaked NSA documents could violate the private realm. "The good news is that there's no program named the 'd*** pic' program. The bad news: they are still collecting everybody's information -- including your d*** pics," Snowden said.

However, Snowden linked Americans' habit of sending each other explicit photos to a broader pitch about courage and liberty: "You shouldn't change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing."

In June, the US Congress must vote on whether to renew the provisions of the Patriot Act, a law which was passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks to boost the US government's security powers. The law has been renewed without great debate in the past, but in May 2013 Snowden leaked a massive haul of secret NSA documents to journalists that raised concerns about the scope and misuse of state surveillance at home and abroad.

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