Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore predicts lawmakers will rein in surveillance
MONTREAL - Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore predicted Tuesday that lawmakers in his country would rein in intelligence agencies in the wake of leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed massive secret government surveillance programs.
While Gore said he favoured surveillance to ensure security, he described the efforts made public by the former Central Intelligence Agency employee as "outrageous" and "completely unacceptable."
"I say that as someone who was a member of the National Security Council working in the White House and getting daily briefings from the CIA," he said.
Snowden, who is wanted by U.S. authorities, revealed a widespread intelligence gathering effort by the National Security Agency to the media, saying the NSA had eavesdropped on telephone calls and snooped through Internet records to discover terrorist plots.
The U.S. government has charged him with unauthorized communication of classified material and theft of government property under the Espionage Act although he has fled the United States and gained sanctuary in Russia.
Gore said the revelations are disturbing to say the least.
"He has revealed evidence of what appears to be crimes against the Constitution of the United States," he said.
Gore said governments throughout history have understandably conducted surveillance to protect their security but added that efforts have gone to "absurd" lengths and are counter-productive.
"When you are looking for a needle in a haystack, it's not always wise to pile more hay on the haystack," he said quoting a scholar on the CIA.
The former senator said while he appreciated the work of intelligence services, he doubted the excesses would be allowed to continue and noted some states are already passing laws or putting referendum questions to their constituents.
"I think they will have to pull this back," Gore told a brief question period at McGill University where he delivered the Beaverbrook Annual Lecture. "I think you will see a reining in."
He said he was not just concerned about overblown efforts in government surveillance but also by corporations who mine the Internet for information on users' viewing and buying habits so they can target advertising.
He added that there is already a backlash in foreign countries that is costing U.S. firms business. Gore said the other countries — he did not name them — have complained they fear the U.S. companies will turn over whatever data they acquire on consumers to the NSA.
Gore, who has embraced environmental activism with warnings about climate change since leaving the White House in 2000, drew on his new book "The Future Six Drivers of Social Change" for his talk.
He focused mainly on the impact of technological advances, comparing the communication revolution now underway with the Internet to the widening reach of the printing press when it was invented to spread information and knowledge.
Gore said that like the printing press, the Internet is easily accessible, participatory and has few if any gatekeepers.
He spoke about the creation of a "global mind" brought about through the development of worldwide digital communications, allowing people to connect easily with each other and intelligent machines.
Gore said that interconnectivity is driving new attitudes to capital, labour, consumer markets and government. Among the changes that need to take place are a re-evaluation of short-term goals and the definition of growth in capital to take a more long-term, bigger picture view.
He noted that many of the people embracing the changes are young and said that the future is in their hands.
"These times now call for young men and women such as you to shape the future and make it what it should be," he told the university crowd.