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The tech world has been rocked by allegations that tech giants such as Google and Facebook were supplying US intelligence agency, the NSA with personal information. Now the world can put a face, and a voice, to the man behind those revelations.
Edward Snowden, a private security contractor with experience working for the CIA, came forward as the whistleblower responsible for making the world aware of PRISM, a top-secret NSA system that collects emails, documents, photos and other material for agents to review.
It was also alleged that much of that information came from major US tech companies including Facebook, Google and Microsoft. These companies have, however, denied that they knowingly supplied information to the NSA.
In the video below, Snowden reveals why he chose to flee to Hong Kong when he started to fear that he would be arrested if he stayed in the US. The whistleblower, apparently hunkered down in a hotel in the Chinese territory, acknowledges that it might raise suspicions that he was going to supply the Chinese government with the information, although he denies that he would do something like that. Instead he says he chose Hong Kong because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and it seemed one of the few places likely to resist efforts by the US government to extradite him.
According to Snowden that doesn’t mean he feels entirely safe in the city though. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he told The Guardian. The security contractor believes that he could be bundled into a plane by CIA operatives at any point or that US intelligence agencies could pay the Chinese triads to put out a hit on him.
After leaving a US$200 000 a year and a “very comfortable life” in Hawaii, Snowden fully expects never to see home again, but is adamant that he made the right choice in making the world aware of PRISM. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” he said.
For its part, Google strongly denies that the US government has any kind of access to its servers. In an official blog post Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote:
We cannot say this more clearly — the government does not have access to Google servers–not directly, or via a back door, or a so-called drop box. Nor have we received blanket orders of the kind being discussed in the media. It is quite wrong to insinuate otherwise. We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. And we have taken the lead in being as transparent as possible about government requests for use information.