Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who exposed extensive American surveillance programs in 2013, warned this week that Japan may next move towards implementing a sweeping surveillance of ordinary citizens as the government aims to enhance police powers for counterterrorism purposes.
In an interview with Kyodo News while in exile in Russia, Snowden said: “This is the beginning of a new wave of mass surveillance in Japan.”
The 33-year-old American was talking about an anti-conspiracy bill filed in Japan. The bill has drawn a lot of criticisms within and outside of Japan for its potential to “undermine civil liberties.”
The consequences could be far bigger if the bill, should it be passed and implemented, will be combined with the use of a wide-reaching online data collection tool called XKEYSCORE. Snowden also confirmed that new NSA papers exposed through the American online media The Intercept earlier this year that the agency’s surveillance tool has already been shared with Japan.
The U.N. through its special rapporteur on the right to privacy has also already reacted to the said bill which it the body fears could lead to undue restrictions of privacy and freedom of expression due to “its potentially broad application”. The Japanese government has strongly sought to dispel such fears and worries.
The bill is “not well explained” - he also raises concerns that the Japanese government may have other “intentions” aside from its stated goal of cracking down on terrorism and organized crimes, especially in view of Japan hosting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Based on his own experience of using XKEYSCORE, Snowden suggested that authorities can intercept everyone's communications, including people organizing political movements or protests, and put them "in a bucket." The records would then be simply "pulled out of the bucket" when needed and the public would not be able to know whether such activities are done legally or secretly by the state since there are no sufficient legal safeguards in the bill.
The former NSA contractor also compares the situation in Japan now with what he went through in the United States following the terror attacks on Sept 11, 2001.
In passing the Patriot Act then following the 9-11 attacks, which strengthened the U.S. government's investigative powers in the wake of the attacks, the government said similar things to what the Japanese government is saying now, such as "these powers are not going to be targeted against ordinary citizens" and "we're only interested in finding al-Qaida and terrorists.”
Snowden elaborated that only a few years after the Patriot Act was enacted, the U.S. government was already using the law secretly to "collect the phone records of everyone in the United States, and everyone around the world who they could access" through the largest phone companies in the United States. Snowden was, of course, talking about the revelations made in 2013 through top-secret documents he himself leaked.
Snowden also argued that even though it sacrifices civil liberties, mass surveillance is not effective. He also cites the U.S. government's privacy watchdog’s conclusion in its report in 2014 that the NSA's massive telephone records program showed "minimal value" in protecting the nation from terrorism and that it must be ended.
Continuing, he advocates for Japan's anti-conspiracy bill to include strong guarantees of human rights and privacy and ensure that those guarantees are "not enforced through the words of politicians but through the actions of courts."
Snowden stressed the value of freedom of speech. He said: “When you say 'I don't care about privacy, because I've nothing to hide,' that's no different than saying you don't care about freedom of speech, because you've nothing to say.”