Edward Snowden has criticised Russia for its crackdown on internet freedom and lax attitude to gay rights, despite having been granted asylum by the country.
The National Security Agency whistleblower described Moscow’s tightening grip over online activities and treatment of gay people as “fundamentally wrong”.
The former US intelligence contractor was given a three-year residence permit in August 2014, but insisted that it was never his choice to go there. He said he would prefer to live in the US, although he cannot return without facing arrest for leaking to the Guardian classified documents revealing the vast scale of the country’s surveillance programmes.
The 32-year-old was accepting the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression’s Bjornson prize – which he was awarded for his work on the right to privacy – by videophone from Russia when he described the country’s restrictions on the web as a “mistake in policy”. He said: “It’s wrong in Russia, and it would be wrong anywhere.
“I’ve been quite critical of [it] in the past and I’ll continue to be in the future, because this drive that we see in the Russian government to control more and more the internet, to control more and more what people are seeing, even parts of personal lives, deciding what is the appropriate or inappropriate way for people to express their love for one another ... [is] fundamentally wrong.”
Despite his criticism of Russia, Snowden said he still felt free to express himself online. “I do. And I think it’s primarily in the context of the fact that most activities happen online. I mean, when people ask me where I live, the most honest answer is on the internet.”
But he described the ever more restrictive use of intelligence monitoring by richer nations as useless and said the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January proved that surveillance does not necessarily keep citizens safe.
He said: “They say: ‘Well, these things are necessary to keep us safe’. In the Charlie Hebdo attacks, for example, the intelligence services say: ‘Oh yes, we knew who these people were’. But it didn’t stop the attack.”
Snowden, who left Hawaii in May 2013 for Hong Kong, where he leaked the trove of classified documents before leaving for Russia, said his life is now normal but he misses the US. He said: “I mean, I would prefer to live in my own country. But exile is exile.”