Privacy row grows as agent speaks out

WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden stepped out of the shadows yesterday to reveal he is behind the leaked documents that have sparked a deepening international privacy row.

Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the management consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, admitted he had shown newspapers top-secret documents detailing the controversial US internet monitoring programme Prism.

But speaking from a Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden told The Guardian: “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.”

“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in,” he added.

“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Snowden had worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) for four years as a contractor for outside companies including Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell.

Last night Booz Allen called the leaks “shocking” and said that “if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

The Prism system, according to reports by The Guardian and The Washington Post, is said to give the NSA and the FBI easy access to the systems of nine of the world’s top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype. All the firms deny involvement.

It was reportedly established in 2007 under changes to US surveillance laws passed under president George Bush and renewed last year under Barack Obama to provide in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information on foreigners overseas.

The British spy agency GCHQ is now also under the spotlight, after reports it has had access to the Prism system since June 2010, and generated 197 intelligence reports through the system in the year to May 2012.

Foreign secretary William Hague yesterday defended GCHQ against claims of unlawful internet spying, saying it was “fanciful” that the eavesdropping agency was dodging UK legislation.

Hague, who said he will make a statement to the Commons on the subject today, would neither confirm nor deny allegations that GCHQ has been accessing data through Prism.

But he said law abiding British citizens had “nothing to fear” from the agency’s work adding: “the idea that in GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a UK law with another agency in another country is fanciful. It is nonsense.”

The scandal over internet snooping follows hot on the heels of news that American telecoms giant Verizon has been handing information about British companies to the US government after a secret court order issued in April.

Technology firms worked quickly to deny they took part in similar deals, with strong denials of involvement over the weekend from Facebook and Google.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, said: “Facebook is not and has never been part of any programme to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively.”

Google chief Larry Page stated: “We have not joined any programme that would give the US government – or any other government – direct access to our servers. Indeed, the US government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a programme called Prism until yesterday.”