TEL AVIV, Israel – Whistle blower Edward Snowden says government surveillance is not about security, but about control.
He warned governments were not the only parties engaged in gathering personal data for control purposes, but that private companies are gradually putting themselves in positions where they could take control over peoples' lives.
He does however see things getting better due to greater awareness of what governments have been up to.
Snowden, who was speaking by video-link from an undisclosed location in Russia where he is in exile, said Israeli software is being used by governments to track journalists. He described the software, produced and marketed by the Israeli firm NSO, as "a digital burglary tool."
"It is not just being used for catching criminals and stopping terrorist attacks…not just for saving lives, but for making money…such a level of recklessness…actually starts costing lives," he said.
The NSO software was used to track Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, Snowden said.
Referring to the NSA surveillance of Americans he was asked whether similar surveillance was being carried out by the Israeli government on Israelis, Snowden said: "Everything that is happening to Americans is happening to you, and worse. Israelis are some of our closest partners. Anything that we are doing that the Israelis aren't doing now, they are probably trying to do."
Asked about Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, Snowden replied: "Like most Americans, I am against the occupation. I support those trying to end it. But I do not think progress can move without dialogue."
At the conclusion of the talk, of the 150 attendees, in a show of hands two thirds said they thought Snowden was a freedom fighter. The other third deemed him a traitor.
Following the event NSO issued a statement rejecting Snowden's claims about the company.
"Edward Snowden found a refuge and warm welcome in Russia from where he has chosen to deal with issues like the rights of citizens and democracy and to slander Israeli technology companies without having any knowledgeable basis [about them] or familiarity with their operations," the statement said.
"The NSO firm produces products which are sold to governmental officials for the sole purpose of investigating and preventing crime and terror."
"Not only does the company act in accordance with export-security related laws, but it is also the only company of its kind in the world in that it utilizes an independent ethics board which includes external experts with legal and international relations backgrounds. The purpose is to prevent a situation where its products are wrongfully exploited. Therefore, in contrast to what was published in the media, the company does not sell to them [and does not permit the use in many countries," the statement continued
"The products of the NSO firm assist on a daily basis with saving the lives of thousands of people: from terrorists and drug barons, children from kidnapping, from paedophiles and from other criminals," said the statement.
(Based on a report published by The Jerusalem Post).