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Data leaks made US, world more secure, says Snowden

Last updated on: March 11, 2014 11:28 IST

Edward Snowden, the American National Security Agency whistleblower whose unprecedented leak of top-secret documents led to a worldwide debate about the nature of surveillance, insisted on Monday that his actions had improved the national security of the United States rather than undermined it, and declared that he would do it all again despite the personal sacrifices he had endured, Guardian reported.

Snowden, who faces arrest if he steps foot on US soil, spoke via a video link to a packed house at the annual South by Southwest gathering of tech industry experts, filmmakers and musicians from an undisclosed location in Russia. He said the U.S. government still has no idea what material he has provided to journalists.

"I saw that the Constitution was violated on a massive scale," Snowden said to applause, adding that his revelations of government spying on private communications have resulted in protections that have benefited the public and global society.

NSA officials declined to comment on the Snowden remarks, Reuters reported.

The session provided a rare and extensive glimpse into the thoughts of Snowden, granted temporary asylum by Russia after the US revoked his passport. He struck back strongly against claims made again last week by the NSA director, General Keith Alexander, that his release of secret documents to the Guardian and other outlets last year had weakened American cyber-defences.

“These things are improving national security, these are improving the communications not just of Americans, but everyone in the world,” Snowden said. “Because we rely on the same standard, we rely on the ability to trust our communications, and without that, we don’t have anything.”

Snowden rejected claims that potential adversaries of the US, such as Russia and China, had obtained the files he had been carrying. “That has never happened, and it is never going to happen. If suddenly the Chinese government knew everything the NSA was doing, we would notice the difference,” said Snowden, noting that US infiltration of Russia and China was extensive, Guardian reported.

He said the government's priority has been an expansive and ill-executed system of massive information collection instead of protecting the vast amounts of intellectual property that support the U.S. economy. "We've got the most to lose from being hacked," Snowden said, Reuters reported.

“When you are the one country in the world that has a vault that is more full than everyone else’s, it doesn’t make any sense to be attacking all day and never defending your vault,” he said.

“And it makes even less sense when you let the standards for vaults worldwide have a big back door that anyone can walk in.”

He also claimed that by spending so much effort on harvesting communications data en masse, US security agencies were failing to pick up would-be terrorists such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the brothers alleged to have bombed last year’s Boston Marathon, who had been previously flagged to the US as a cause for concern by Russian authorities. “We are monitoring everyone’s communications rather than suspects’ communications,” he said. “If we hadn’t spent so much on mass surveillance, if we had followed traditional patterns, we might have caught him,” he said, Guardian reported.

Last year, Snowden, who had been working at a NSA facility as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a raft of secret documents that revealed a vast US government system for monitoring phone and Internet data.

The leaks deeply embarrassed the Obama administration, which in January banned US eavesdropping on the leaders of friendly countries and allies and began reining in the sweeping collection of Americans' phone data in a series of limited reforms triggered by Snowden's revelations.

To many in government and at the NSA, Snowden is a traitor who compromised the security of the United States. But for many at the conference he is a hero who protected privacy and civil liberties, Reuters reported.

Image: A supporter of Edward Snowden participates in a demonstration in Boston

Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters