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Snowden warns Israelis against government's sweeping surveillance activities

Edward Snowden speaks via videolink [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 November, 2018

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The US whistleblower also warned that security reasons should not be used to justify granting intense surveillance powers.

US whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden warned Israelis against their country's use of sweeping surveillance in a speech by video link on Tuesday.

Snowden cited Israel's high-tech capabilities and the argument that it is needed for security reasons has led to too much government surveillance. 

"If we can allow ourselves to be terrorised by someone with nothing but a knife, to reorder our societies for the convenience of state power ... we've stopped being citizens and we've started being subjects," said Snowden, who spoke from an undisclosed location in Moscow.

The 35-year-old also spoke of the NSO Group, the Israel-based company known for its Pegasus spyware used by governments all over the world to track citizens.

The software has been pinpointed by independent experts as likely being used in a number of countries with poor human rights records, including the Middle East.

"The idea is that companies like this increasingly are popping up all around the world," Snowden said.

In one case, international experts investigating the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico in 2014 were targeted with the spyware after it had been sold to the government, the experts said.

NSO Group says its product is intended to be used only for investigating and preventing crime and terrorism. 

Once a phone is infected with Pegasus spyware, hackers have full access to a range of contents stored on the phone including messages, emails and pictures. A user can also be listened in on via a phone's microphone, according to the internet watchdog Citizen Lab.

Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency, leaked thousands of classified documents to the press in 2013 which revealed the vast scope of surveillance of private data put in place after the 9/11 attacks.

He has lived in exile ever since.

The US has charged him with espionage and theft of state secrets, but Snowden said he still loves his country and hopes to return home.

Snowden spoke to an invited audience in Tel Aviv at an event organised by Israeli public relations agency OH! Orenstein Hoshen.

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