Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president raises concern that Washington may increase the intrusiveness of domestic intelligence gathering, former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden said on Monday, warning that democratic checks and balances were losing ground to authoritarianism.
Snowden lives in Moscow under an asylum deal after he leaked classified information in 2013 that triggered an international furor over the reach of U.S. spy operations. He spoke at a teleconference hosted by Buenos Aires University’s law school.
“We are starting to substitute open government for sheer authoritarianism, a government based not upon the principle of informed consent granted by people who understand its activities but rather a trust in personalities, a trust in claims, a trust in the hope that they will do the right thing,” Snowden said.
Washington pledged not to engage in indiscriminate espionage following Snowden’s 2013 disclosures. But Snowden questioned if that policy could be modified by new officials “who have a very different set of values and can govern in the dark.”
“If government does actually win our trust, because they go for some years and they do operate in a way that we should support, what happens when it changes?” he asked.
“This is kind of the challenge that we’re facing today in the United States with the result of the last election.”
Supporters see Snowden as a whistleblower who boldly exposed government excess. But the U.S. government has filed espionage charges against him for leaking intelligence information.
Trump, who scored an upset win over Democrat Hillary Clinton in last Tuesday’s election, broke with many in his own Republican Party during the campaign and emphasized his success as a businessman and reality TV show star. He promised sweeping security measures to deal with the threat of attacks on the United States.
His election was greeted with concern from the American Civil Liberties Union over statements he made during the campaign supporting increased surveillance of U.S. Muslims, mass deportation of illegal immigrants, reauthorization of waterboarding and changing libel laws to increase press restrictions.
Snowden, asked if he thought the election of Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, might increase chances of him being pardoned by the U.S. government, responded: “Who knows?”
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)