Accused US government whistleblower Edward Snowden is
introduced to supporters of Amnesty International, via
teleconference during the Amnesty International Human
Rights Conference 2014 in Chicago. Photo by Reuters
Edward Snowden and reporter Glenn Greenwald, who brought
to light the whistleblower's leaks about mass U.S. government
surveillance last year, have appeared together via video link
from opposite ends of the earth for what is believed to be the
first time since Snowden sought asylum in Russia.
A sympathetic crowd of nearly 1,000 packed a downtown Chicago
hotel ballroom at Amnesty International USA's annual human
rights meeting and gave Greenwald, who dialed in from Brazil,
a raucous welcome before Snowden was patched in 15 minutes
later to a standing ovation.
The pair cautioned that government monitoring of "metadata"
is more intrusive than directly listening to phone calls or
reading emails and stressed the importance of a free press
willing to scrutinize government activity.
Metadata includes which telephone number calls which other
numbers, when the calls were made and how long they lasted.
Metadata does not include the content of the calls.
Amnesty International is campaigning to end mass surveillance
by the U.S. government and calling for Congressional action
to further rein in the collection of information about
telephone calls and other communications.
Last year, Snowden, who had been working at a NSA facility as
an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked a raft of secret
documents that revealed a vast U.S. government system for
monitoring phone and Internet data.
The leaks deeply embarrassed the Obama administration, which
in January banned U.S. eavesdropping on the leaders of
friendly countries and allies and began reining in the
sweeping collection of Americans' phone data in a series of
limited reforms triggered by Snowden's revelations.
Snowden faces arrest if he steps foot on U.S. soil.
President Barack Obama said last month he plans to ask
Congress to end the bulk collection and storage of phone
records by the NSA but allow the government to access
metadata when needed.
Snowden and Greenwald said that such data is in fact more
revealing than outright government spying on phone
conversations and emails.
"Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding,
a precise record of all the private activities in all of our
lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations
and our actual activities," said Snowden, dressed in a jacket
with no tie in front of a black background.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed the majority of
Americans were concerned that Internet companies were
encroaching on too much of their lives.
Greenwald, who met with Snowden 10 months ago and wrote about
the leaked documents in the Guardian and other media outlets,
promised further revelations of government abuses of power at
his new media venture the Intercept.
"My hope and my belief is that as we do more of that
reporting and as people see the scope of the abuse as opposed
to just the scope of the surveillance they will start to care
more," he said.
"Mark my words. Put stars by it and in two months or so come
back and tell me if I didn't make good on my word."