Edward Snowden
Edward SnowdenThe Guardian

Employees at the US National Security Agency (NSA) abused their access to surveillance streams for personal gratification, according to whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Employees at the agency regularly shared intercepted nude photos and stored them in a government database in violation of personal rights, Snowden said in an interview with the Guardian.

"You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old," Snowden said from Moscow.

Snowden, who is currently in Russia, is wanted by the US on charges of espionage and theft of government property. He received international attention after he leaked up to 1.7 million top secret documents about the NSA's surveillance programmes.

"They've suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. Now, in the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense, for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation - But they're extremely attractive," he added.

"So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker and their co-worker says: 'Oh hey, that's great. Send that to Bill down the way.' And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom and sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by other people. It's never reported. Nobody knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak."

"The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorisation without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?"

Snowden noted that he personally witnessed numerous instances of such illegal actions, which are seen as "the fringe benefits of surveillance positions."

In the interview, Snowden urged lawyers, journalists, doctors, accountants, priests and others who have the duty to protect confidentiality of individuals to upgrade their data security systems to avoid surveillance and data leak.