The United States bulk surveillance scandal is continuing unabated with further revelations about the NSA PRISM programme and the person who leaked information about it.
Speaking to the Guardian, which first broke the news about the pervasive US government surveillance that involves "direct access" to customer data from nine of the largest technology companies, 29-year old Edward Snowden — who worked for the NSA for a decade — said he blew the whistle on the scheme as a matter of principle.
Snowden said he wanted to inform the public of what he viewed as an "existential threat to democracy".
Money was not the motivation for Snowden, who said the US government had granted itself powers it is not entitled to and that there was no public oversight.
"The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to," Snowden told the Guardian.
Aiming for transparency rather than harming people, Snowden said he carefully evaluated and selected which documents to leak to journalists whose judgement he trusted, keeping others concealed.
Snowden believed he would be harshly persecuted by the United States for espionage and expected to lose everything including his freedom. "All my options are bad," Snowden said in the interview.
He is currently in Hong Kong and hopes that Iceland will grant him political asylum.
Meanwhile, the United States director of Intelligence, James Clapper, issued a fact sheet on PRISM that confirms the existence of the surveillance programme.
However, Clapper denied that PRISM is secret or used for data mining, saying instead it was an internal government computer system used to facilitate statutorily authorised collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communications providers.
The collection took place under court supervision as per section 702 of the US Foreign Intelligence Act and has been discussed and widely known since 2008, Clapper claimed.
Full text of the PRISM fact sheet
Clapper said the intelligence collection happened with the knowledge of the electronic communication service providers. These were listed in the leaked PowerPoint presentation as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Yahoo, Skype, YouTube and PalTalk.
Further, Clapper said the US government could not target anyone, not even foreigners, "without a valid foreign intelligence purpose."
The US spy master's fact sheet appeared to contradict Google's chief executive Larry Page, who said over the weekend that neither he nor the web provider giant knew of PRISM until last week.
"We have not joined any program that would give the US government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the US government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centres," Page wrote on the official Google blog.
In a similar vein, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the social network "is not and has never been part of any programme to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers."
Like Page, Zuckerberg said Facebook wasn't aware of PRISM until last week and that the company reviewed each government request for data carefully and only provided information required by law.
The general counsel of Yahoo!, Ron Bell, also denied his company had joined PRISM or any programme in which the web service provider volunteered to share user data with the US government.
"These claims are false," Bell said, adding that like Google and Facebook, Yahoo! reviewed each request for data from the government.
However, a further slide from the leaked PowerPoint deck published by the Guardian over the weekend talked about "PRISM collection directly from the servers of these US service providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple".
PRISM is set up as a data collection from servers programme, the slide showed, and not to siphon off communications data from fibre-optic cables that make up the network infrastructure, another form of surveillance that the NSA engaged in.