The NSA’s ultimate goal is to destroy individual privacy worldwide, working with its UK sidekick GCHQ, journalist Glenn Greenwald warned an EU inquiry, adding that they were far ahead of their rivals in their “ability to destroy privacy.”
Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist renowned for publishing Edward Snowden’s leaks, criticized EU governments’ muted response to the revelations about the NSA’s mass espionage. Most governments reacted with “apathy and indifference” to reports that ordinary citizens were being spied upon, Greenwald said, pointing out that EU politicians only took action when they discovered that they themselves were being targeted.
“I think western governments have inculcated people to accept that privacy does not really have much value,” said Greenwald, adding it was “to get populations accustomed to violations of their privacy.”
Greenwald testified before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs via a video link, contributing to an inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance on EU citizens.
“The NSA doesn’t need a specific reason to collect anybody’s communications,” said the journalist, reminding the panel that the agency’s ultimate goal was to “eliminate individual privacy worldwide.”
The collection of metadata is one of the “supreme priorities” for the NSA , said Greenwald, adding that the practice was more invasive than snooping on the content of electronic communications. Metadata refers to the time, date, duration and location of calls, allowing the NSA to effectively follow targets.
To demonstrate the fact that metadata is far more useful to security agencies than content, Greenwald gave the example of a woman deciding to have an abortion. If you listen in on the woman’s call you will get a very constricting interpretation of events, said Greenwald, a “generic-sounding” clinic name and an appointment time. With metadata, however, agencies can construct a much more detailed picture because it gives them access to phone numbers that in turn could be used to identify the clinic.
“If you’re someone who values privacy, it would almost be preferable at this point to have the NSA listening in on your phone calls and reading your emails than it is to have them collect all of your metadata over the course of many years and then analyze it in secret with virtually no restraint.”
Contradicting Washington’s claims that it does not engage in "economic espionage," Greenwald said the NSA and the GCHQ's activities were aimed towards “diplomatic manipulation and accumulation of power.”
“What a lot of this spying is about has nothing to do with terrorism and national security. That is the pretext. It is about diplomatic manipulation and economic advantage.”
The NSA also follows people who express “radical ideas,” Greenwald said. The spy agency collects data on their “visits to pornographic sites” and their “sexual chats online with people who they’re not married to” in order to later discredit them, Greenwald said.
Greenwald rejected accusations from the American government that Snowden and his associates have put the fight against terrorism in jeopardy by releasing classified data. He said that the only thing that has been harmed is the “perception of honesty and credibility” of the governments engaged in spying.
He also made the point that terrorists are fully aware their electronic communications are tracked and for that reason do not use e-mail or the internet.
The inquiry was set up to discuss ratcheting up the security of the internet and telephone networks in the European Union.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the massive scale of the American spy agency’s espionage program in Europe earlier this year. He disseminated classified files to international media that showed the NSA had monitored a number of high-profile political figures, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Furthermore, it was revealed that the organization gathers metadata on millions of telephone calls across the European Union.
Snowden is also expected to testify before the Civil Liberties Committee in January as part of the inquiry.