‘We cannot throw away all of our rights… because we are afraid of rare instances of criminal activity,’ whistleblower tells Canadian journalism association
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. Harper announced plans to introduce legislation that would keep what it calls “Canada’s most heinous criminals” behind bars for life with no chance of parole.
In a teleconference hosted by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression at Ryerson University on Wednesday, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that the country’s intelligence agencies have the “weakest oversight” in the Western world, and that new anti-terror legislation championed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was “an emulation of the American Patriot Act.”
“And when [the agencies are] trying to expand their powers, it’s pretty amazing that we have the Canadian government trying to block the testimony of former prime ministers who’ve had access to classified information, who understand the value of these programs, and who are warning the public broadly and saying this is something we really need to talk about, this is something we really need to debate, this is something we really need to be careful about,” Snowden continued.
As Common Dreams previously reported, the new surveillance legislation, known as Bill C-51, “would expand the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)’s powers to ‘disrupt terrorism offenses and terrorist activity;’ make it easier for law enforcement agencies to carry out preventive detentions, and allow them for longer time, make it easier to federal agencies to share information, and give law enforcement agencies power ‘to disrupt terrorism offenses and terrorist activity.'”
While critics have said the scope of the legislation is overly broad and exploits recent attacks to expand unwarranted surveillance powers, Harper and others in Parliament say the bill is necessary for national security.
But in Canada, terrorism kills fewer people than lightning strikes, Snowden said, adding that mass surveillance is an ineffective method in catching lone wolf attackers.
“When you think about bulk collection . . . and you collect everything on everybody, you don’t really understand anything about it,” he said. “You can drown in data. You can’t make the connections and more data is constantly generated all the time.”
Moreover, the charge of national security is not strong enough to warrant sacrificing personal freedom, Snowden continued.
“No matter what we do, no matter what laws we pass, we cannot throw away all of our rights, all of our liberties, all of our traditional freedoms because we are afraid of rare instances of criminal activity,” he said. “Governments never had this power in the past where they could pre-emptively investigate every member of society, place them under quite intrusive surveillance.”
During the hour-long chat, Snowden also said of electronic information, “Everything can be subverted.”
Earlier this week, Snowden’s main Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena reiterated the whistleblower’s desire to return home to the U.S. from Moscow, where he has lived under political asylum since exposing U.S. spying operations in 2013. Kuchereno said that Snowden would be willing to come home, where he is wanted on espionage charges, if he could be guaranteed a fair and impartial trial.
That doesn’t seem to be possible at this point, Snowden said Wednesday. “There is no fair trial available on offer right now.”