• Edward Snowden with John Oliver on the Last Week Tonight show.Youtube Screenshot
  • Edward Snowden with John Oliver on the Last Week Tonight show.Youtube Screenshot

Former National Security Agency subcontractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden explained how the agency that has the 'greatest surveillance capabilities' is using it to make Americans vulnerable to them, in an interview with John Oliver, host of satirical show Last Week Tonight. 

"They (NSA) will argue that they don't use this (surveillance capabilities) for nefarious purposes against American citizens. But the real problem is that they are using it to make us vulnerable to them," Snowden said. 

"And that's like, while I have a gun pointed at your head, I am not going to pull the trigger," he added.

Oliver said he he flew to Moscow to interview Snowden on the issue of surveillance, in the light of the US PATRIOT Act, some sections of which are set to expire on 1 June. 

Snowden said that while surveillance was important to fight foreign hackers, it was 'incredibly dangerous' as it could be used on Americans themselves. 

"I worked with mass surveillance systems against Chinese hackers, and I saw that these things do have some purpose, but you don't want them spying inside your own country... We can never forget that they are incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous," Snowden said. 

"We spied on UNICEF, the children's organisation," he added.

Oliver, known for his straight-faced humour, however tells him that no American cares about foreign surveillance.

The show host then gets straight to the point about Snowden's famous leak of NSA documents to the media - "How many of those documents have you actually read?"

"I have evaluated all the documents. I do understand what I turned over," Snowden responded.  

Oliver, however, did not take the comment lightly. 

"There's a difference between understanding what is in the document and reading what is in the document. When you are handing over thousands of NSA documents, the last thing you want to do is read them," he said, taking a jibe at Snowden. 

When Snowden said that journalists were handling the documents in a responsible way, Oliver illustrated a 'f***-up' after a publication failed to redact the documents before publishing it, making it possible for public to see NSA's surveillance activities in Mosul on Al Qaeda.

"It is a f** up," Snowden agreed. 

Oliver then grilled Snowden into taking responsibility for the security compromise.

"You have to own that. You are giving documents with information you know could be harmful which could get out there," Oliver said. 

Snowden explained he leaked the documents to empower Americans. 

"I did this to give Americans a chance to decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have," he said. 

'Di** Pic Program'

Oliver brought up the issue of NSA allegedly being able to access 'naked pictures' shared privately between individuals, followed by a video of Americans hitting out at a supposed 'di** pic program'. 

"The good news is there is no such thing as a 'di** pic program', but the bad news is that they are collecting information, including the 'di** pics'," Snowden said. 

Snowden explained how the different surveillance programmes of the NSA violate privacy.

"If you have your email somewhere like Gmail hosted on a server overseas or transferred overseas or anytime it crosses outside the borders of the United States, your junk ends up in the database," he explained. 

Finally, when Oliver mockingly asks if the solution is that Americans do not take naked pictures of themselves till the surveillance issue is sorted out, Snowden argues that it is the NSA which is 'doing the wrong thing'. 

"You should not change your behaviour because a government agency is doing the wrong thing. If you sacrifice your values because you're afraid, you don't care about those values very much."

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