PRISM whistleblower comes clean

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The ex-CIA employee who leaked details of PRISM, a US government project which allegedly enables the National Security Agency (NSA) to harvest data at will from major IT companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple, has outed himself this evening. In a video interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which broke the story on PRISM at the end of last week, 29-year-old Edward Snowden says that:

I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.

It’s an incredible interview, which makes you wonder what Bradley Manning – the military analyst who allegedly leaked US embassy cables to Wikileaks – would have done given the same opportunity. Snowden says he appreciates that the US government will retaliate, but rather than spend his life hiding until they catch up with him he’d rather wait it out in the open. At the time the video was shot, Snowden was in a Hong Kong hotel room, but says he may seek refuge in Iceland.

Snowden says he became aware of PRISM early on, but expected the project to be reigned in under the Obama regime – a point of some disillusionment it seems.

While most of the major tech companies alleged to be involved in PRISM have published some sort of denial, a Snowden gave The Guardian a spreasheet which essentially says US security services have complete access to communications data from just about every company barring Twitter you can think of. According to another document, which talks about Boundless Informant – a system for collating data interceptions – 97 billion communications were intercepted during March 2013 alone, including many originating from South African citizens who use Gmail, Live Messenger or Yahoo! mail.

Ninety-seven billion calls, texts, emails and IMs from around the world picked up and analysed by US security services.

A heatmap of interceptions (green is less, red is more) is shown below – again sourced from The Guardian. Given that we’re constantly told South Africa is a hotbed of terrorist activity, we get off surprisingly lightly – the heatmap suggests we’re about as watched as Mexico, and probably the least surveilled of the BRICS. Which is some relief.


Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar,, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.