NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Photo: Reuters)
Americans might oppose intrusive surveillance if they realized the government can see their most intimate emailed pictures, comic John Oliver suggested to fugitive intelligence technician Edward Snowden.
The British television host scored a rare one-on-one interview in Moscow with the notorious former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor for Sunday's edition of his weekly US cable comedy news show "John Oliver Tonight."
Oliver didn't give the man behind one of the biggest leaks in US intelligence history an easy ride, insisting he must take responsibility for information in press reports that put current anti-terror operations in jeopardy.
But he also expressed sympathy with Snowden's efforts to trigger a public debate about the balance to be struck in a free society between the security provided by blanket surveillance and the public's right to privacy.
And he suggested a crude but perhaps effective way to focus public attention on the issue.
"This is the most visible line in the sand for people: 'Can they see my dick?'" Oliver said, suggesting that the NSA's Internet surveillance could intercept emailed photographs of a private or sexual nature.
Snowden laughed but played along with the line of thought, describing in some detail how the various intelligence gathering authorities and techniques that he revealed in a trove of leaked NSA documents could violate the private realm.
"The good news is that there's no program named the 'dick pic' program. The bad news: they are still collecting everybody's information -- including your dick pics," Snowden said.
In June, the US Congress must vote on whether to renew the provisions of the Patriot Act, a law which was passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks to boost the US government's security powers.
The law has been renewed without great debate in the past, but in May 2013 Snowden leaked a massive haul of secret NSA documents to journalists that raised concerns about the scope and misuse of state surveillance at home and abroad.