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December 17, 2013 2:10 pm
Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor, has offered to help Brazil investigate digital surveillance by Washington of Latin America’s largest country, but said this would require permanent asylum.
“Many Brazilian senators . . . have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens,” said Mr Snowden, in an open letter to the Brazilian people published in the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper on Tuesday.
“I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so . . . Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.”
The move by Mr Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, comes as a US court on Monday dealt a blow to the NSA, ruling that its programme of collecting bulk phone records was likely to be unconstitutional.
The court said the programme was based on “almost-Orwellian technology” and presented a clear breach of the Fourth Amendment protection against “unlawful search and seizure”.
The Brazilian government said on Tuesday morning it was working on a response to the Snowden letter.
The secretary of the Brazilian Senate committee investigating the NSA espionage claims said the chamber was working on a final report on the issue that would present its proposals in April.
“We cannot, however, do anything about his [Snowden’s] request for asylum, which is a matter for the executive branch of government [the presidency],” he said.
Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist to whom Mr Snowden originally handed over thousands of NSA documents, is based in Brazil.
Any effort by Brazil to grant permanent asylum to Mr Snowden would create chaos in a relationship that had been warming until the NSA spying revelations emerged this year.
Analysis of revelations about the extent of the surveillance state in the US
The US would be certain to punish such a move, which would in turn further enrage Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who cancelled a state visit to the US in October due to the espionage issue.
Brazil is also considering other countermeasures including a new law governing the internet that would force foreign companies to keep files concerning Brazilian citizens in data centres in the Latin American country.
Mr Snowden in his letter said he was motivated to release the NSA records after he watched “with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing”.
He referred to earlier documents he released to the media that alleged the NSA had spied on Brazil’s president and her closest aides, by monitoring their communications as well as state oil company Petrobras.
“The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own ‘safety’ – for Dilma’s ‘safety’, for Petrobras’ ‘safety’ – they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own,” he said.
“Today, if you carry a cell phone in São Paulo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5bn times a day to people around the world.”
He praised Brazil for raising the issue of internet privacy at the UN Human Rights Committee and emphasised the efforts to which the US would go to keep him quiet.
In particular, he cited an incident in which a jet carrying leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to land on suspicion Mr Snowden was on board.
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