"I believe the cost of frank public debate about the powers of our government is less than the danger posed by allowing these powers to continue growing in secret," he replied, calling them "a direct threat to democratic governance."
In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, "What the government wants is something they never had before," adding: "They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?"
Snowden likened the NSA's powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when "general warrants" allowed anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, "is authorizing general warrants for the entire country's metadata."
"The last time that happened, we fought a war over it," he said.
Technology, of course, has enabled a great deal of consumer surveillance by private companies, as well. The difference with the NSA's possession of the data, Snowden said, is that government has the power to take away life or freedom.
At the NSA, he said, "there are people in the office who joke about, 'We put warheads on foreheads.' Twitter doesn't put warheads on foreheads."
Privacy, as Snowden sees it, is a universal right, applicable to American and foreign surveillance alike.
"I don't care whether you're the pope or Osama bin Laden," he said. "As long as there's an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that's fine. I don't think it's imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees."
On June 29, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union's counterterrorism coordinator, awoke to a report in Der Spiegel that U.S. intelligence had broken into E.U. offices, including his, to implant surveillance devices.