People shouldn’t hold back on sending racy photos of themselves online for fear the images might be scooped up by government spies, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has said.
Snowden appeared for a sit-down interview Sunday night on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” The host traveled to Russia to do the interview in person.
To make the issue hit home for his TV audience, Oliver asked Snowden which government programs might allow spies to access people’s “d**k pics.”
Many of the programs would, Snowden said, but that shouldn’t cause people to hold back.
“You shouldn’t change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing,” he said. “If we sacrifice our values because we’re afraid, we don’t care about those values very much.”
The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 would allow the government to access any photos sent between people in the U.S., Snowden said, even though the law is aimed at foreign intelligence information. That’s because people’s messages can be routed overseas or hosted on a company’s servers overseas, placing them in the government’s database, he said.
Oliver grilled Snowden on other issues. He asked whether he considered the adverse consequences of leaking government documents containing security secrets to reporters who may not have the expertise to fully understand them. In one instance, The New York Times did not properly redact part of a document it reported on, revealing information about U.S. operations against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
“That is a problem,” Snowden said.
To which Oliver shot back: “That’s a f**kup.”
Snowden agreed. “These things do happen in reporting,” he said. “In journalism, we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty.”
Oliver asked Snowden if he actually read all the documents he leaked. Snowden answered vaguely, saying he “evaluated” all of them, and that he “understood” what he had turned over.
His decision to leak the documents, he said, stemmed from his concerns over the government’s power to gather communications in bulk from people living in the U.S. He saw more value in the work he did on surveillance systems against Chinese hackers overseas, Snowden said.
“I saw these things do have some purpose,” he told Oliver.
“Spies are great when they’re on our side, but we can never forget that they’re incredibly powerful and they’re incredibly dangerous,” Snowden said. “And if they’re off the leash, they can end up coming after us.”
Media outlets began publishing stories based on Snowden’s leaks in June 2013.