The Washington Post

Snowden claims NSA surveillance ‘collapsing’

A day after a federal judge issued a strongly worded ruling against one of the National Security Agency’s metadata collection programs, Edward Snowden, the former contractor at the agency whose disclosures made the lawsuit possible, indicated he might seek asylum in Brazil.

Snowden is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia. In an “open letter to the people of Brazil” published Tuesday, he wrote that he would be willing to help Brazil investigate the NSA’s activities if he were able to travel there. Brazil has been a primary target of U.S. surveillance in South America, according to documents Snowden gave journalists.

Snowden also wrote that opposition around the world to the practices he exposed will overwhelm the U.S. surveillance apparatus, the Associated Press reported. “The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance,” he wrote, “is collapsing.”

His optimism was supported by Monday’s ruling, written by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon. The judge, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush, rejected the government’s argument that gathering Americans’ call records without a warrant is constitutional:

The government’s legal justification for the call-tracking program is based on a 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, involving the surveillance of a criminal suspect over a two-day period. In that case, the Supreme Court said that Americans have no expectation of privacy in the telephone metadata that companies hold as business records, and that therefore a warrant is not required to obtain such information. A succession of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have adopted the government’s argument based on that ruling.

But Leon said the question the Supreme Court confronted in 1979 is not the same as the one he was faced with. “Indeed, the question in this case can more properly be styled as follows: When do present-day circumstances — the evolutions in the government’s surveillance capabilities, citizens’ phone habits, and the relationship between the NSA and telecom companies — become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court thirty-four years ago, that a precedent like Smith does not apply?” he wrote. “The answer, unfortunately for the government, is now.”

Ellen Nakashima and Ann E. Marimow

Regarding Leon’s opinion, The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote that the Obama administration’s case for the programs lacks supporting evidence.

“If the government is to emerge from Mr. Snowden’s revelations with the authorities that officials insist are crucial, it will have to do more to demonstrate why they are essential and how Americans’ privacy is being protected,” the board wrote.

Snowden’s letter to Brazil was published on the same day that President Obama is scheduled to meet with a group of technology executives who have objected to governmental invasions of their data, as disclosed by Snowden. According to the Associated Press , the companies represented in the group include Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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