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Edward Snowden: Rand Paul’s ‘Filibuster’ Is a ‘Sea Change’

The ex-spy answered Reddit users’ questions about NSA reform Thursday.

Edward Snowden's proof to Reddit users that he is who says he is.
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Emma Roller
May 21, 2015, 10:13 a.m.

With a little help from his friends at the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, Ed­ward Snowden con­duc­ted a Red­dit “Ask Me Any­thing” ses­sion Thursday af­ter­noon. The ex-spy spoke about re­forms to the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency and the Pat­ri­ot Act. Sec­tion 215 of the act, which the NSA uses as the leg­al jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the data col­lec­tion pro­gram that Snowden re­vealed two years ago, is set to ex­pire June 1 un­less Con­gress ex­tends it.

In his an­swers, he ex­pressed sig­ni­fic­ant skep­ti­cism that the U.S. gov­ern­ment will stop spy­ing on its cit­izens al­to­geth­er, but still en­cour­aged users to call their mem­ber of Con­gress and urge them to vote against the Pat­ri­ot Act ex­ten­sion.

He also answered ques­tions ran­ging from his take on Sen. Rand Paul’s re­cent self-de­scribed fili­buster, to the state of Rus­si­an cuisine, to his fa­vor­ite book. Some of his replies are high­lighted be­low.  

Q: What’re your thoughts on Rand Paul’s fili­buster against the re­new­al of the Pat­ri­ot Act?

A: It rep­res­ents a sea change from a few years ago, when in­trus­ive new sur­veil­lance laws were passed without any kind of mean­ing­ful op­pos­i­tion or de­bate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his polit­ics, it’s im­port­ant to re­mem­ber that when he took the floor to say “No” to any length of reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the Pat­ri­ot Act, he was speak­ing for the ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans—more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass sur­veil­lance re­formed or ended.

He was joined by sev­er­al oth­er sen­at­ors who dis­agree with the Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity lead­er’s ef­forts to sneak through a reau­thor­iz­a­tion of what courts just weeks ago de­clared was a com­pre­hens­ively un­law­ful pro­gram, and if you no­tice that yours did not take to the floor with him, you should call them right now and ask them to vote against any ex­ten­sion of the Pat­ri­ot Act, be­cause right now it looks like they’re go­ing to force the reau­thor­iz­a­tion vote to oc­cur dur­ing the dark of a hol­i­day week­end.

Q: Even if Sec­tion 215 is not re­newed, do you be­lieve that the NSA/U.S. gov­ern­ment will still ac­com­plish phone sur­veil­lance without ap­prov­al and in secret?

A: There are al­ways reas­ons to be con­cerned that re­gard­less of the laws passed, some agen­cies in gov­ern­ment (FBI, NSA, CIA, and DEA, for ex­ample, have flouted laws in the past) will mis­con­true the in­tent of Con­gress in passing lim­it­ing laws—or simply dis­reg­ard them totally. For ex­ample, the DOJ’s in­tern­al watch­dog, the Of­fice of the In­spect­or Gen­er­al (OIG) re­leased a re­port claim­ing, among oth­er ab­uses, that it could simply re­fuse to tell gov­ern­ment over­sight bod­ies what ex­actly it was do­ing, so the leg­al­ity or il­leg­al­ity of their op­er­a­tions simply couldn’t be ques­tioned at all.

However, that’s no ex­cuse for the pub­lic or Con­gress to turn a blind eye to un­law­ful or im­mor­al op­er­a­tions—and the kind of mass sur­veil­lance hap­pen­ing un­der Sec­tion 215 of the Pat­ri­ot Act right now is very much un­law­ful: the Courts ruled just two weeks ago that not only are these activ­it­ies il­leg­al, but they have been since the day the pro­grams began.

Q: In your opin­ion, do you think that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­an Cit­izens care enough that they will call Con­gress and sign pe­ti­tions? I think a large is­sue in Amer­ica is Polit­ic­al Apathy.

A: Jameel [Jaf­fer, deputy leg­al dir­ect­or of the ACLU] prob­ably has a bet­ter an­swer, but we know from very re­cent, non-par­tis­an polling that Amer­ic­ans (and every­one else around the world) care tre­mend­ously about mass sur­veil­lance.

The more cent­ral ques­tion, from my per­spect­ive, is “why don’t law­makers seem to care?” After all, the en­tire reas­on they are in of­fice in our sys­tem is to rep­res­ent our views. The re­cent Prin­ceton Study on politi­cians’ re­spons­ive­ness to the policy pref­er­ences of dif­fer­ent sec­tions of so­ci­ety gives some in­dic­a­tion of where things might be go­ing wrong:

Out of all groups ex­press­ing a policy pref­er­ence with­in so­ci­ety, the views of the pub­lic at large are giv­en the very least weight, where­as those of eco­nom­ic elites (think bankers, lob­by­ists, and the people on the Board of Dir­ect­ors at de­fense con­tract­ing com­pan­ies) ex­er­cise more than ten times as much in­flu­ence on what laws get passed — and what laws don’t.

Q: Whats your opin­ion about the UK gov­ern­ment giv­ing GCHQ spies im­munity from anti-hack­ing laws and does that make them worse than the NSA?

I think it’s re­veal­ing that the UK gov­ern­ment has chosen to change the law without any de­bate or pub­lic de­clar­a­tion. It’s a clear red flag.

Q: What do you think about the rise of en­cryp­ted mes­saging apps like Threema and Bleep by Bit­tor­rent? Which (if any) would you re­com­mend? Also, read any good books lately?

Sig­nal for iOS, Red­phone/TextSe­cure for An­droid.

I have a spe­cial fond­ness for “Secrets,” by Daniel Ells­berg.

* * *

Red­dit users also had some soul-search­ing ques­tions for Snowden.

“Do you miss pizza?” one user asked.

“This guy gets it,” Snowden re­spon­ded. “Rus­sia has Papa John’s. For real.”

“Sorry, I just had to ask, but, Mr. Snowden, dur­ing the in­ter­view with John Oliv­er, was that really a pic­ture of his junk in that folder?” an­oth­er user asked.

Snowden simply replied with an am­bigu­ous emoticon.

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