US intelligence whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has suggested that threats of terrorism, which are increasingly being used by politicians to justify invasions of privacy, are on the whole illusory.

(IE) Speaking today via video link at the Cyber Threat Summit at the Helix in DCU Mr Snowden urged those in attendance and the wider public to always question powerful institutions and established authority.

He said the the public should not lose sight of the fact that the number of people dying in terrorism-related incidents was greater in the 1960s than it was today.

“People like to think of the law as establishing how governments work but the law only has that effect insofar as the government abides by the law.

“When I came forward, the reason it has so much impact around the world was because the government was violating the laws in the United States. The UK was violating its laws. And this was why they all tried to rush through to legalise what they were doing.”

Mr Snowden, who is presently in exile in Russia following his revelations about a vast and unauthorised global surveillance programme by America’s National Security Agency, also expressed concern about Irish data retention laws suggesting there should be no bulk surveillance anywhere.

“Traditionally, surveillance had always been a targeting problem, or a selection problem. The police go, ‘we think this person or that person is a criminal, they’re up to no good, they’re a terrorist’.

“They go to court, they show their evidence for thinking this to the judge and the judge says this is reasonable and they authorise them to begin spying as much as they want on this particular person.”

“The technology that was being used was changing surveillance from a problem of selecting targets into a ranking problem in which everyone was assessed. As a result we are all on the list, it’s just a question [of] how high up you are”.

Commenting on his own future Mr Snowden said he had not intended to end up in Russia and he would like to go home to the US.

“As a dissident I think it is tragic, even repulsive that the only place that an American whistleblower can be safe is in Russia.

Mr Snowden said his application for asylum had been rejected by 21 countries including Ireland.

“The reality is the stakes politically. We could have the support of every member of the public in Ireland but if the Irish Government isn’t going to actually carry that forward nothing is going to change.”

Mr Snowden also told the conference that his ’ultimate message’ was that ’collective action’ could make the world a better place.

“But that collective action starts with individual choices – looking around at the world you live in, the things that you see around us and recognising that we all have minds of incivility, of injustice, that we can except and we can deal with.

 

“We can see the homeless, the panhandler and go, not today, I can’t handle it. But then you see it again and then you see it again and then eventually you feel, you’re going to do something.

“There’s that one step beyond where you can no longer countenance being a part of that and that is when you recognise that you have not just the right but the duty and obligation to make this world better in whatever ways we can.”