Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday said that Edward Snowden's revelations showed the NSA's "threat to democracy" and revealed violations by the agency "way more serious" than any crime committed by the whistleblower.
Gore made the comments at the Southland Conference in Nashville where he was a speaker.
Asked about his reaction when the revelations of vast NSA surveillance began to come out, Gore said he felt "dismay that it had gone as far as it had," and said the overreach was a "threat to democracy."
"If any of us are put in a position where we have to self-censor and think twice about what we write in an email, or what we click on for fear that somebody reading a record of this may misunderstand the reason why we looked up some disease or something. . . that kills democracy," he said.
Snowden emphasized this point as well, saying in a live Q&A in January, "Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively are less free."
"We need to restore the freedom of the internet, give the national security authorities the right to guard against legitimate threats," Gore continued.
But "if you're looking for a needle in a haystack," Gore said, referencing the metaphor from NSA expert James Bamford, "your best option is not to go out and collect a lot more hay and pile it on top of the haystack." Common sense can be used to prioritize, he said, rather than using the collect-it-all approach currently taken.
Asked the oft-repeated question, "Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero?" Gore said he, like most people, doesn't put the former NSA worker in either category.
"We need to restore the freedom of the internet."
—Al GoreBut "if you set up a spectrum, I would push it more away from the traitor side and I'll tell you why. He clearly violated the law, so you can't say, 'OK, what he did is alright.' It's not. But what he revealed in the course of violating important laws, included violations of the United States Constitution that were way more serious than the crimes that he committed."
"In the course of violating important laws, he also provided an important service," Gore said. "We did need to know how far this has gone," he said, referring to the NSA's vast surveillance.
Like World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee, Gore called for an online Magna Carta.
"Back in the history of our freedoms, before the United States of America was founded, the Magna Carta was one of the great milestones, and business leaders—merchants—were right at the center of drawing up the Magna Carta. I believe that some of the most important digital businesses ought to be in a position to work with 'we the people' in asserting a digital Magna Carta that does provide protection for a form of net neutrality that's not simplistic but really does work and guarantees our freedoms."
"But in order for businesses to play the role they should play," he continued, "they need to pay attention to correcting some of these gross abuses of individual privacy that are ongoing in the business-sphere."
Gore's comments were first reported by PandoDaily, which also co-sponsored the conference. Pando uploaded these videos of Gore making the comments: