Edward Snowden: I left it to others to decide what to reveal

US whistleblower Edward Snowden told a PACE hearing today why he blew the whistle on government spying, and how he sought to minimise any harm – as well as sharing his thoughts on the best way to protect other whistleblowers who are driven to reveal information in the public interest.

Speaking from Moscow via video link to a hearing organised by PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee, as part of a report being prepared by Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD), Snowden said mass surveillance was a violation of legal rights and human rights, which was “beneath the United States.”

He said he felt it was his duty to reveal the programmes which enable US intelligence services to eavesdrop on American citizens and people around the world, but denied that his revelations had caused harm to national security.

“If I just wanted to upload everything on the internet, I could have done that, but I chose not to. Instead, I worked with the press and I required the press… to have consultations with the government to ensure that balance [between national security and public interest] was met.”

He added: “I’m comfortable that the revelations so far have directly served the public interest while minimising any harm.”

Mr Omtzigt said he and his colleagues had gone to “quite some lengths” to enable Snowden to address the hearing in person, under the immunity accorded to Council of Europe hearings, but this had not been possible.

Anna Myers, a London-based expert for the Whistleblower Information Network, said that protection for whistleblowers was generally improving, at least in some countries, in areas such as financial crime, but that this did not apply to the field of national security.

Mr Omtzigt’s report is due later this year.