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Snowden Offers Brazil Spying Info in Exchange for Asylum

by Matthew Hilburn December 17, 2013

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden wrote an open letter to the people of Brazil, published Tuesday in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. In the letter he asks for asylum, the second time he's done so.

The former NSA contractor is currently living in Russia after being granted one year of temporary asylum in August. U.S. officials have requested Snowden be extradited to stand trial on espionage charges, but Russia has refused. The 30-year-old Snowden fled to Moscow after leaking a massive number of highly-classified documents detailing NSA surveillance programs. And he has already requested asylum in a number of countries, including Brazil.

Snowden's letter said that while some in the Brazilian government asked for his assistance in investigating the extent of U.S. surveillance there, he is unable to because "the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so … Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak."

Snowden praises Brazil as "inspiring" because it's a country that listened to his warning and is leading "the United Nations Human Rights Committee to recognize for the first time in history that privacy does not stop where the digital network starts, and that the mass surveillance of innocents is a violation of human rights."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington in October because of revelations that the United States monitored her personal communications and those of other Brazilians. Those allegations came from documents leaked by Snowden.

Snowden provided examples of the kind of surveillance he claims occurred in Brazil.

"Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world," Snowden wrote. "When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation."

Snowden dismisses claims by U.S. officials that the surveillance is done to keep people safe from terrorists.

"American senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not 'surveillance,' it's 'data collection,'" he wrote. "They say it is done to keep you safe. They're wrong."

Snowden claims the programs "were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power."

He added that even the defenders of massive surveillance "now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public."

The letter ends with a call to action.

"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.'

Since fleeing to Hong Kong last May, Snowden's revelations that the U.S. government was involved in massive surveilling phones, email and social media communications have sparked controversy around the world.

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