Edward Snowden: To be heard on NSA spying, I need asylum in Brazil

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden wrote in an open letter to Brazil that he can't speak freely unless he has political asylum. Snowden is currently living in Russia.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras/The Guardian/AP/File
This June 9, 2013 file photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, in Hong Kong. Snowden wrote in an open letter to the Brazil published early Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, that he would be willing to help Brazil's government investigate US spying on its soil, but that he could do so only if granted political asylum.

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Nearly six months after leaking allegations of spying by the National Security Agency, former contractor Edward Snowden has offered to help Brazil with its investigations into US spying there in exchange for asylum.

Mr. Snowden is currently living in Russia on a one-year temporary visa, after spending months in legal limbo in the Moscow airport. In an open letter to Brazil, published in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo and reprinted in English on Britain’s The Guardian website today, Snowden wrote about his motivations for leaking NSA surveillance activity and noted how he’s been impressed by Brazil and other governments’ reactions to alleged NSA actions.

Brazil pushed the United Nations for a “symbolic resolution which seeks to extend personal privacy rights to all people,” and has considered setting up its own fiber optic cables to Europe and other Latin American nations in order to bypass the US system, according to The Associated Press.

Snowden writes that many Brazilian senators have asked for his assistance in investigating suspected spying crimes by the NSA on Brazilian people. However, “until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak," Snowden's letter read.

My act of conscience began with a statement: "I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That's not something I'm willing to support, it's not something I'm willing to build, and it's not something I'm willing to live under."

If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.

[UPDATE: The Brazilian government has received no official request from Snowden since he arrived in Moscow in June, a foreign ministry spokesman said. Without a formal request, asylum will not be considered, the spokesman told Reuters.]

The open letter to Brazil was published the day after a US judge ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata was a likely violation of privacy and Fourth Amendment rights, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

“I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” US District Judge Richard Leon said in his 68-page opinion on the case.

Snowden’s release of NSA documents over months last summer and fall caused a global uproar, as each subsequent release seemed to implicate a new target country or leader. Multiple revelations of activity in Brazil led President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a coveted state visit to the US in October, according to a separate Monitor report.

In July, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has worked closely with Snowden to release his findings, wrote that Brazil was a major Latin American target of the NSA.

In September, allegations were published that an NSA program intercepted President Rousseff's email and instant messages, and that the NSA also intercepted communications of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto about potential cabinet appointees during his presidential campaign. Allegations of US surveillance of the state-run oil company, Petrobras, which has made some of the world’s largest oil discoveries in recent years, had Brazilians up in arms, according to Reuters.

"Clearly, Petrobras is not a threat to the security of any country,” Rousseff said at the time, likening the alleged spying to industrial espionage.

Brazil, however, did admit to spying on diplomatic targets from the US and numerous other countries within its own borders, reports The New York Times. Rousseff’s government also launched a “big brother” style surveillance program at home in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup. This program doesn’t monitor cellphone conversations or messaging, but has a series of 560 cameras across Rio de Janeiro and includes the use of drones over event venues, reports the Monitor.

Snowden tapped into Brazilian fears and frustrations over NSA spying in his letter, citing examples of how anyone carrying a cellphone can be tracked, a mother’s message to her son can be logged for five years or more, and how website visits and what was done on the site can be documented by the NSA:

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not "surveillance," it's "data collection." They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power.

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