Edward Snowden Denounces UK Surveillance Bill
Whistleblower says measure "defies belief"
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden denounced the emergency surveillance bill introduced into UK parliament this week, saying the speed with which its been introduced "defies belief."
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Snowden said the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill, which would require communications companies to store customer data such as phone calls, text messages, and internet use, was similar to the Protect America Act of 2007 that allowed the U.S. government to spy on citizens and foreign officials.
"[The] NSA could have written this draft," Snowden told the Guardian. "They passed it under the same sort of emergency justification. They said we would be at risk. They said companies will no longer cooperate with us. We're losing valuable intelligence that puts the nation at risk."
Parliament will have a week to look at the bill, with a one-day debate in the House of Commons and two days in the House of Lords — a much smaller window of time than usual for introduction and passage of laws in the UK.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently told MPs that there was not enough time for public debate about the proposal, although the sudden urgency of the bill conflicts with recent reports that threats of terrorism in the West have significantly decreased.
"I am simply not prepared to be a prime minister who has to address the people after a terrorist incident and explain that I could have done more to prevent it," Cameron said. "Sometimes in the dangerous world in which we live, we need our security services to listen to someone's phone and read their emails to identify and disrupt a terrorist plot."
The bill resembles a previous surveillance law established in 2006, which instructed telecom companies to record customer data for up to two years. The law was recently struck down by the European Court of Justice for interfering with the "fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data."
“This emergency bill undermines not only the right to privacy, but parliamentary and public scrutiny of measures that affect everyone’s lives.”
—Izza Leghtas, HRW"If these surveillance authorities are so interested, so invasive, the courts are actually saying they violate fundamental rights, do we really want to authorise them on a new, increased and more intrusive scale without any public debate?" Snowden said.
Civil liberties groups have also condemned the surveillance bill. Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the proposal "outrageous."
“Why did the government wait for over three months to react to the European Court’s ruling, and then plan to rush the bill through parliament within a week?” Leghtas said. “This emergency bill undermines not only the right to privacy, but parliamentary and public scrutiny of measures that affect everyone’s lives.”
Snowden's comments come as a number of global civil liberties groups, including Amnesty International, Liberty, and Privacy International, begin a legal challenge against UK intelligence services for the alleged mass surveillance program Tempora, detailed in Snowden's document leak last year.
The UK government has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the program, but the NSA files said it recorded phone calls, the content of email messages, and entries on Facebook.
Privacy International said the timing of the emergency legislation going through Commons just two days before the tribunal is "audacious."
"It's shameful that the government should be pursuing a further expansion of its surveillance state at a time when the already extensive powers of the British security services are being challenged in the courts and in the public domain," said Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International.
Cross-party support for the emergency bill is almost unanimous. Cameron held private talks with Labour and Liberal Democrat legislators last week.