- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2016

Three years after his NSA revelations spurred a sea change in the United States with respect to surveillance, former contractor Edward Snowden admitted in a recent interview that conditions in other nations — and particularly his current home, Russia — have only worsened.

Speaking from a Moscow hotel, Mr. Snowden said Russia had “gone very far, in ways that are completely unnecessary, costly and corrosive to individual and collective rights” of its citizens, the Financial Times reported Friday.

“The laws have gotten worse in some countries,” he said during the wide-ranging interview. “France has gone very far, so too, of course, countries like Russia, China. In Britain there’s an authoritarian trend.”

“I can’t fix the human rights situation in Russia, and realistically my priority is to fix my own country first, because that’s the one to which I owe the greatest loyalty. But though the chances are it will make no difference, maybe it’ll help.”

Mr. Snowden, 33, has resided in Russia as an asylum seeker since 2013 after he fled the U.S. and provided journalists with a cache of documents detailing the NSA and international intelligence community’s surveillance operations. Subsequent reports exposed widespread eavesdropping efforts by the U.S. and its allies against innocent civilians the world over. 

In addition to advocating during that span for changes to surveillance laws in the U.S. and abroad, the former NSA contractor has been an outspoken critic of Russia’s policies under President Vladimir Putin — especially upon recent passage of legislation that authorities broad new surveillance powers for the Kremlin in the name of national security.

The so-called “Big Brother” law essentially forbids digital encryption and requires internet companies to keep copies of their customers’ digital communications. In June, Snowden told his 2 million-plus Twitter followers that the law is “an unworkable, unjustifiable violation of rights that should never be signed.”

“A lot of people who care about me tell me to shut up, but if I was married to my own self-interest, I never would have left Hawaii,” Mr. Snowden told the Financial Times of his criticism.

“I don’t have a lot of ties to Russia and that’s by design because, as crazy as it sounds, I still plan to leave,” he added.

Mr. Snowden faces charges of theft and espionage if he returns to the U.S., in addition to a political climate that has changed significantly with respect to surveillance in the three years since his sudden departure. Congress passed the U.S.A. Freedom Act in direct response to the NSA leaks, and Eric Holder, the attorney general at the time of the leak, has since said that he believes Mr. Snowden performed “a public service.”

Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who represents Mr. Snowden in the U.S., is preparing to petition Mr. Obama for a presidential pardon this fall, the New York Times reported earlier this month.

“I think people are inclined to believe that Russia would never let him stay there unless he was paying for it in some way,” he told the Times recently of his client’s tenure in Moscow. “But it’s just not true. Not only is he not cooperating, but he’s actually being critical.”

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