The UK authorities are operating a surveillance system where “anything goes” and their interceptions are more intrusive to people’s privacy than has been seen in the US, Edward Snowden said.
Speaking via Skype at the Observer Ideas festival, held in central London, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency specialist, said there were “really no limits” to the GCHQ’s surveillance capabilities.
He said: “In the UK … is the system of regulation where anything goes. They collect everything that might be interesting. It’s up to the government to justify why it needs this. It’s not up to you to justify why it doesn’t … This is where the danger is, when we think about … evidence being gathered against us but we don’t have the opportunity to challenge that in courts. It undermines the entire system of justice.”
He also said he thought that the lack of coverage by the UK papers of the story, or the hostile coverage of it, other than by the Guardian, “did a disservice to the public”.
His appearance at the festival on Sunday marked the end of a weekend of almost frenetic social activity by his highly reclusive standards: he appeared at two public events and was the absent star of Laura Poitras’ documentary, Citizenfour, which premiered in New York on Friday.
Collectively, the events revealed a more rounded, human, portrait of the former NSA analyst than had been seen before, and offered a few telling glimpses of what his life was now like in Moscow.