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Extremely Vulnerable

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Glenn Greenwald first reported on the NSA revelations and he joins us now from Rio de Janeiro.

Thanks for being there. So, you can hear me, I hope, Glenn Greenwald. But how much of the mass surveillance operations Edward Snowden exposed have actually been wound back or curtailed?

GLENN GREENWALD, JOURNALIST: Not very much. The first program that we reported on at The Guardian was the one that caused a huge controversy in the United States, which was the program whereby the US Government was collecting every record of every American’s communications, knowing with whom they communicated, for how long, where physically they were when they were having the communication. That program has been significantly limited as a result of this new law that says the Government shall no longer collect and store this information. But the other programs that we reported on, especially ones involving the central collection of all internet communications for non-Americans, which happened to compose 95 per cent of the planet, remains unaffected by this law.

TONY JONES: Yes, that’s – I guess that’s the point I was gonna make. I mean, there may be some protections in place in the new Freedom Act for American citizens, but how vulnerable is the rest of the world to having their communications, their emails, their data generally, tapped and observed by the NSA?

GLENN GREENWALD: Extremely vulnerable. The package that you ran indicated a document that I actually published last year in my book in which the goal of the NSA as they explicitly describe it is captured by their slogan, “Collect it all”. Not collect the terrorist organisations, not collect a lot of it, but collect it all. They literally want to convert the internet into a realm of limitless surveillance. And they, along with their allies in the so-called Five Eyes partnership, which of course includes Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand, are well on their way to doing it. So if you’re somebody who uses the internet, your communications are almost certainly being swept up by this dragnet surveillance.

TONY JONES: Were you surprised that Australia passed metadata retention laws with the support of both major parties?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well I’m an American citizen and so I have witnessed for 15 years my government exploiting the fear of terrorism to get more and more powers for itself by constantly hyping and exaggerating the threat to put people in fear in order to get more surveillance and detention powers. I watch them exploit terrorism fears to justify torture in Guantanamo and the war in Iraq. So as I look at other Western governments doing the same thing, including in Australia, where if you’re an Australian citizen, you’re more likely to die by being struck by lightning or by going out to dinner tonight and contracting a fatal intestinal illness than you are by dying in a terrorism attack. When I watch both parties in Australia exploit terrorism fears in order to get more power for themselves, it’s a very familiar dynamic. Thankfully in the United States, we seem finally to be realising that this has gone on way too long, it has eroded our freedoms way too much and yet Australia is going in the other direction, sadly.

TONY JONES: Australian agencies passed a lot of Australian metadata without particular restrictions over to the US agencies. Can we be clear on what the NSA is actually capable of doing? Because we know that programs like XKeyscore give them the ability not just to look at metadata, but actually open up in actual emails and read what’s being said in email traffic.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, XKeyscore is one of the most menacing surveillance programs ever invented in history. And all anyone has to do is go look at the NSA’s own documents, which we published at The Guardian in late-2013 that reflects how menacing it is. The description of XKeyscore by the NSA is that they want to and are essentially now able to store not just emails, but everything you do on the internet. So your Google searches, your chats, your purchases of all kinds of products, whatever it is that you might be buying over the internet. It is intended to be and is fast becoming a comprehensive program of mass surveillance. What the US Government and its allies have done is constructed the largest system of suspicionless surveillance ever invented in history. Obviously everybody believes that people suspected of terrorism where there’s evidence should be surveilled. This is about surveilling entire populations, hundreds of millions of people who have done nothing wrong, and it’s really hard to overstate the reach and intrusiveness of it, as the NSA’s own documents make clear.

TONY JONES: Well we heard earlier in that package that 700 million people are estimated to have changed the way they behave online and there’s a kind of new front opened up in this privacy war and it’s a war over encryption. So, it is being fought at the highest levels. We can see the CEO of Apple is obviously on the side of encryption. He thinks that people have the right to have encrypted messages, at least in the United States. But his own intelligence agencies and the police in the United States think exactly the opposite. They think that decrypted messaging – that encrypted messaging is very dangerous. Who is going to win that fight?

GLENN GREENWALD: There’s no question that any government official trying to stop encryption is engaged in a losing battle. It’s like trying to prevent the telephone from spreading around the world on the grounds that people use the telephone to plot crimes, which of course is true, they do do that, but nobody would say, “We want to make sure that the telephone is banned or that people can’t use it.” You know, it reminds me a lot of – for example, most crimes, the way most crimes are committed, terrible crimes are planned and committed are people meet in private in their homes and they plan those crimes. And it would be like the Government saying, “We need to protect you from these violent crimes, and most crimes are committed through private conversations in the home, so we need to be able to get our access to private conversations in the home. We want to put monitors in everyone’s house, by law in every room,” the way George Orwell warned about. Most people would say, “I don’t care if that would help you stop crimes, it’s such a profound invasion of privacy that I would never even consider supporting the governments doing that,” because privacy is critical. Even if it helps support crime, we don’t accept that kind of an erosion. That’s what the Australian Government, the British Government and others are trying to do with saying, “Well we think that we need to have access and there shouldn’t be any more encrypted communications.” It’s a losing battle because these big companies like Apple are going to put encryption in their product. Other people around the world are figuring out how to use encryption on their own. But the Government has no business invading people’s private communications on the internet. That is not the proper role of government. The internet can only be the kind of invention that it was always promised to be if we’re able to communicate without the Government monitoring what it is we’re doing and saying.

TONY JONES: So, were you surprised at how the hardline stance that Tim Cook actually took as a CEO? He’s taking on the intelligence agencies front on and his argument is that – in the United States at least, it’s a constitutional right to have encryption. Were you surprised by that?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it is really interesting. I mean, certainly prior to the Snowden revelations, the large tech companies like Google and Microsoft and Apple collaborated very aggressively with the NSA in turning over their users’ data without much protest. And I think what has happened in the wake of the Snowden revelations is that they now really fear, these companies do, that unless they change that perception, that they’re collaborators with the NSA, and show their users that they’re willing to protect their privacy rather than compromise it, they’re gonna lose the next generation of users or the next generation after that to companies based in Germany or Korea or Brazil who say, “Don’t use Apple, don’t use Google, don’t use Facebook ’cause they’ll give your data to the NSA. Use our products instead.” And so these companies are now really committed, not because they care about privacy, but because they care about their own future, to show that they’re willing to protect the privacy of their users. And this is a critical development that has happened in the wake of the Snowden revelations and the governments are definitely not going to be able to get around that encryption. The goal now of the governments, their strategy is to start to accuse Apple and Facebook and Google of being friends of the terrorist, to tell the public, “They’re aiding and abetting al-Qaeda and ISIS because they won’t give us access to your communications,” and that’s one of the major wars that is now taking place.

TONY JONES: I’ve got one final question. We don’t have much time. But Ed Snowden told a conference here last month, on satellite, obviously, that there’s more to come in terms of revelations about Australian intelligence and the way it was used. Do you know of what sort of material is still out there relating to the activities of Australian spy agencies?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. I mean, Australia’s probably the country that has got away with things the most in terms of the Snowden revelations. Australia is one of the most aggressive countries that engage in mass surveillance as a member of the Five Eyes partnership. There’s been less reporting on Australia than the other four countries and we definitely intend to change that. There are interesting and important documents about what Australia’s doing to the privacy rights, not just of people around the world, but their own citizens and there definitely will be more reporting on that.

TONY JONES: When is that likely to happen?

GLENN GREENWALD: We’re working on the reporting. I can’t – I don’t want to promise it as a journalist. You know it takes time to do reporting well, but we’re gonna definitely get that done as soon as we can.

TONY JONES: Glenn Greenwald, we thank you very much for joining us.

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