NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has appealed to the nation of Brazil with an offer to help investigate U.S. spying on Brazilian citizens in exchange for political asylum, according to an open letter published Tuesday in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
“I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so – going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from travelling to Latin America!” Snowden wrote. “Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the U.S. government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.
The former security contractor was granted year-long asylum in Russia and has been living in Moscow ever since he revealed that the National Security Administration was surreptitiously monitoring the phone and email communications of people all over the world, including the cell phone of Brazilian president Dilma Roussef.
Brazil has been particularly vocal in condemning the NSA’s spying on Brazilian Internet users, with Roussef opening this year’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly with a speech castigating a “global network of electronic espionage” and calling for the U.N. to help police electronic surveillance.
She urged the U.N. to build on its 2012 motion extending human rights protections to the digital sphere, and is also pushing for a law that would require global Internet companies like Facebook and Google to store Brazilian user data within the country.
Snowden said in his letter that many Brazilian senators have asked him for help in probing the NSA’s suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens, and used Brazil-specific examples to reiterate the NSA’s reach into Brazilians’ lives.
“Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world,” he wrote. “When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation.”
He added, “American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not ‘surveillance,’ it's ‘data collection.’ They say it is done to keep you safe. They're wrong.”
He went on to appeal to Brazilians that their freedoms and privacy should not be limited by American officials and “a secret organization,” and that “the price for speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.”
The Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo later reported unnamed government officials said Brasilia has no interest in granting Snowden asylum, according to Reuters. Al Jazeera was unable to verify the report at time of publication.
Snowden spent more than a month in limbo in a Moscow airport following his leaks of classified NSA documents that were originally revealed by The Guardian newspaper. Russia granted him temporary asylum after he appealed to a number of other countries that turned him down.
The State Department and the NSA recently dismissed the idea that Snowden would be granted asylum if he agreed to stop leaking NSA files, a possibility that was reportedly being considered by the U.S. government.
And on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records was likely unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. He granted a preliminary injunction for the NSA to stop collecting user metadata in response to a lawsuit brought by two activist plaintiffs, and said they were likely to succeed in their constitutional challenge, though the government is certain to appeal the ruling.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Snowden “should be returned to the United States as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process in our system."