Edward Snowden: 'Fourth Amendment no longer exists'

The NSA whistleblower tells NBC the US government has decided "all of our data can now be collected without any suspicion of wrongdoing."

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Edward Snowden NBC News

Is the Fourth Amendment dead? Edward Snowden seems to think so.

In an interview with NBC News that aired Wednesday night, the NSA whistleblower who leaked sensitive government documents through the media, said the amendment that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures "as it was written no longer exists." Specifically, Snowden accused the US government of deciding in secret and without any public debate to separate the search and seizure aspects of the amendment.

"All of your private records," Snowden told NBC's Brian Williams. "All of your private communications, all of your transactions, all of your associations, who you talk to, who you love, what you buy, what you read, all of these things can be seized and then held by the government and then searched later for any reason, hardly without any justification, without any reason, without any real oversight, without any real accountability for those who do wrong."

As a result, Snowden said, the Fourth Amendment now no longer holds the same meaning it once held.

Snowden became famous or infamous, depending on one's perspective, after leaking documents from the National Security Agency that detailed government surveillance both in the US and abroad. The documents revealed an NSA program for the bulk collection of the phone records of Americans, a revelation that prompted concern and criticism from everyone from ordinary citizens to those in Congress. Since leaking the documents, Snowden has been in the crosshairs of the US government and is currently in asylum in Russia.

Further sharing his beliefs on government spying, Snowden told NBC that "now we have a system of pervasive, pre-criminal surveillance where the government wants to watch what you're doing just to see what you're up to, to see what you're thinking, even behind closed doors."

During the full interview, Snowden also spoke out about other issues, including his motivation for leaking the documents, his view of himself as a patriot, and his desire to return to the United States. And despite his dour opinion of the state of the Fourth Amendment, Snowden appeared encouraged by what he called the changes that have occurred in societies around the world since he leaked the classified files.

"A robust public debate," he said. "We're seeing new protections in the United States and abroad for our rights to make sure that they're no longer violated."

Snowden has certainly emerged as a controversial figure in the seemingly endless debate pitting security against privacy. Some have labeled him a patriot, others a traitor. A sampling of tweets gathered in the wake of the NBC interview found that as of 6 a.m. PT Thursday, 59 percent of Twitter users consider him a patriot, while 41 percent see him as a traitor.

Do you think Snowden is a patriot, a traitor, or something else? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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