In a testimony delivered by video-link from Moscow, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed to EU parliamentarians that the US NSA is actively spying on human rights organizations such as UNICEF and Amnesty International.
“The reports of intelligence agencies using mass surveillance intelligence agencies to monitor peaceful groups unrelated to any terrorist threat or nation security purpose, such as the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, or spying on American lawyers negotiating trade deals, are in fact accurate,” said Snowden.
“The NSA has in fact specifically targeted the communications of either leaders or staff members of purely civilian or human rights organizations-Â¦ including domestically within the borders of the US,” he added.
The NSA is still not compiling lists of people with a particular sexual orientation or religion, he says, but the fact is they can.
“We have to recognise that the infrastructure for such activities has been built,” he said, and added that it has been used to track people who have followed the wrong link, visited an “unsavoury” website, or even just booked a particular flight.
What’s more, these capabilities have also been used by general law enforcement – without warrants.
Snowden said that dragnet mass surveillance is ineffective at preventing terrorism. “We have an obligation to develop international standards to protect against the routine and substantial abuse of this technology, abuses that are ongoing today,” he noted. “This not just a problem for the US or EU. This is in fact a global problem.”
He opined that mass surveillance could undermine liberal societies, and potentially legitimize authoritarian governments.
He also revealed that the NSA has actively worked to “subvert the privacy laws and constitutional protections of EU member states against mass surveillance.”
“Mr Snowden revealed that there is a dedicated programme that specifically targets human rights organisations. He also made it clear that there is a total lack of judicial and political oversight of the NSA,” commented Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD).
“Lastly he said that the countries that co-operate extensively with the NSA – he mentioned the UK, Germany and the Netherlands in particular – have no binding assurances from the US that the exchanged data is not used for illegal operations.”