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Snowden calls for whistleblower protection in online chat

Hundreds of thousands of questions, 13 answers: For two hours, Edward Snowden spoke with supporters and critics in an online chat. He took the opportunity to further criticize the NSA and US President Obama.

#AskSnowden: The hashtag popped up all over Twitter on Thursday (23.01.2014) as people around the world sent in their questions to Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence analyst who currently lives under asylum in Russia. From 8 p.m. GMT, Snowden was expected to personally publish his selected answers on the website of his supporters.

At first, however, nothing happened. The page was empty, with only the big, bright orange "Donate Now!" button glowing brightly on the screen. But after four minutes, the first question appeared, sent in by Twitter user @savagejen, a self-described "hacker mommy" based in Texas. She asked: " Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties?"

The answer didn't take long to appear. "Yes," wrote Snowden simply, before adding "What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws."

Criticism of NSA, mass surveillance

Out of the hundreds of thousands of messages sent in to Snowden, he first selected mostly those that touched on US domestic politics and the National Security Agency, giving him plenty of opportunity for criticism.

Screenshot Twitteraktion Trendsmap Asksnowden EINSCHRÄNKUNG

Questions for Snowden came in from around the world

Accordingly, Snowden's answers to these questions were relatively long. He spoke once again of "indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents' communication every single day." He said this was not being done because it was necessary, but only because it was easy and inexpensive, due to new technologies. In addition, he also said he believed it was possible to restrict the monitoring of secret service. "We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account," he wrote.

'Under what conditions would you agree to return to the US?'

When asked what it would take to get him to come back to the United States, Snowden criticized the country's current whistle-blower law which he said gives him "no chance" for a fair trial. It would be "the best solution for the government, the public and myself [sic]" if he could return to the US, he said, before adding that the current laws offer him no protection.

Screenshot Twitter Asksnowden

Some users simply wanted to thank Snowden

Snowden also answered a critical question from user @MichaelHargrov1, who wanted to know: "Was the privacy of your co-workers considered while you were stealing their log-in and password information?" Hargrove, who in his Twitter profile describes himself as "retired army officer" and "proud Democrat and supporter of President Obama," was referring to a recent article from the news agency Reuters.

The answer to this question was brief, by far the shortest response of the chat: "With all due respect to [journalist] Mark Hosenball, the Reuters report that put this out there was simply wrong. I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers."

Not everything was serious

Aside from the many serious questions and sincere messages of support for Snwoden, #AskSnowden also gave many users the opportunity for jokes. Some wanted to know his thoughts on Justin Bieber, others asked about aliens or simply the weather. One user even asked what he should eat for breakfast the next morning.

Snowden's answers were published on the official website of his supporters, freesnowden.is. The site gives supporters the opportunity to make donations to help Snowden, and provides detailed information about the former NSA contractor and his revelations, which have triggered outrage around the world.

The website is run by The Courage Foundation, established to protect journalists who are persecuted because of what they have published. Snowden is the first person that the foundation has chosen to support. Among the foundation's initiators is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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