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Edward Snowden, NSA leaker, questions ‘Presidential Alert’ test: ‘How else might it be used?’

October 4, 2018

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor responsible for leaking evidence of the U.S. government’s vast surveillance abilities, has scrutinized the nationwide “Presidential Alert” test that sent messages to millions of cellphones Wednesday.

Mr. Snowden took to Twitter following the Trump administration’s inaugural test of the “Presidential Alert” feature to raise questions involving the government’s ability to simultaneously reach most of the United States.

“All our lives dangle at the end of a wire. Ask yourself: who controls it? How else might it be used?” Mr. Snowden wrote to his 3.8 million Twitter followers.

“The same centralized infrastructure that lets them send something to everyone enables them to read anything from anyone,” Mr. Snowden said in a second tweet linking to a 2016 article on “Upstream,” a classified NSA surveillance program exposed by documents he leaked in 2013.

Mr. Snowden’s remarks came moments after cellphones connected to the nation’s largest wireless networks received a mock alert meant to test the operational readiness of the previously untested “Presidential Alert” feature a notification akin to missing children alerts and severe weather warnings sent through the government’s existing Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, but dissimilar in the sense that they are mandatory since cellphone users cannot opt-out from receiving them.

Around 75 percent of the nation’s cellphones were expected to display the alert, FEMA said previously, putting Wednesday’s test message on the phones of potentially hundreds of millions of mobile devices. FEMA has not responded with the latest figures.

Neither the WEA system system nor the Emergency Alert System (EAS) used to broadcast similar alerts over television and radio collect any sort of data, a FEMA spokesperson told The Washington Times when asked to comment on Mr. Snowden’s remarks

“There is no database of cellphone numbers,” said the FEMA spokesperson. “WEA messages are broadcasted to phones that have a signal from a cell phone tower.”

“NSA conducts its foreign signals intelligence mission under the legal authorities established by the Constitution and Congress and is bound by both policy and law to protect U.S. persons’ privacy and civil liberties,” an NSA media relations officer said in response to a similar inquiry. “NSA’s collection activities pursuant to these authorities are subject to ongoing, extensive oversight by all three branches of government, and in the interest of transparency, the Government has declassified and publicly released thousands of pages of materials pertaining to its collection activities in recent years.”

Representatives for the FCC did not immediately comment.

Mr. Snowden, 35, had his passport revoked while traveling internationally on the heels of disclosing classified NSA documents in 2013. He was subsequently stranded at an airport near Moscow for several weeks prior to ultimately being granted asylum by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Snowden has resided in the region ever since, notwithstanding outstanding charges filed by U.S. federal prosecutors in relation to the leaks.

“Upstream,” according to the article Mr. Snowden shared, involved the NSA’s bulk collection of emails, chats and internet traffic of U.S. persons as their data traveled abroad.

“Because of how it operates, Upstream surveillance represents a new surveillance paradigm, one in which computers constantly scan our communications for information of interest to the government,” the article said.

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