Analysts working for the National Security Agency routinely pass around private, intimate photos found in the stream of communications data intercepted, according to Edward Snowden.
In a new, extensive video interview, the fugitive leaker said the fraternizing practice is seen as a "fringe benefit" of working for the intelligence agency.
"You got young enlisted guys, 18-to-22 years old—they've suddenly been thrust into a situation with extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records," Snowden told The Guardian. "Now, in the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense, for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation, but they're extremely attractive."
Snowden, speaking on camera from Russia, where he is living under temporary asylum, continued:
So what do they do, they turn around in their chair and show their coworker. And their coworker says, "Oh, hey, that's great. Send that to Bill down the way." And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom. Sooner or later, this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It's never reported, nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is very weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government without any specific authorization, without any specific need, is in itself a violation of your rights? Why is that in a government database?
When pushed back on the scenario, Snowden said such behavior is "routine enough, depending on the company you keep."
During a seven-hour discussion with The Guardian taped last week, Snowden also said he could tolerate living in a U.S. prison.
"Regardless of what happens, if I end up in chains in Guantanamo, I can live with that," the 31-year-old former NSA contractor said.
Snowden has insisted he would prefer to come home rather than live in Russia, where he just applied for another year of asylum—a request likely to be granted. But fears of an unfair trial have kept him abroad since his jet-setting flight from the U.S. last summer.
Additionally, Snowden said he didn't trust the security of popular online communication services such as Google and Skype. While he has used both to communicate his anti-surveillance message to audiences around the world, he "wouldn't use it for personal communications," Snowden said.