"The NSA has specifically targeted either leaders or staff members in a number of civil and non-governmental organisations … including domestically within the borders of the United States.”
In a statement on Monday, the Council of Europe offered their reasoning for inviting Snowden to testify: "Edward Snowden has triggered a massive public debate on privacy in the internet age. We hope to ask him what his revelations mean for ordinary users and how they should protect their privacy and what kind of restrictions Europe should impose on state surveillance."
According to the Guardian, the council asked Snowden if the United States spied on the "highly sensitive and confidential communications" of major human rights organizations as well as on similar smaller regional and national groups.
"The answer is, without question, yes. Absolutely,” Snowden replied.
In his testimony, Snowden also offered an forensic account of how the NSA's powerful surveillance programs—programs which use sophisticated data mining techniques to screen countless private communications—violate the EU's privacy laws, speaking about XKeyscore, which allows analysts to search the emails, online chats, and browsing histories of millions without any authorization.
"This technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times," he said.
XKeyscore amounts is an egregious form of mass surveillance because it collects data from entire populations, according to Snowden. Anyone might be targeted on the basis of "religious beliefs, sexual or political affiliations, transactions with certain businesses" and even "gun ownership,” he claimed.
Snowden advised the council that what the NSA has built is an infrastructure that would allow the government to engage in “nightmare scenarios” in which they target people based on a belief or affiliation and then “round them up and send them into camps,” though he said he does not believe the NSA is currently involved in this type of activity.
He warned the assembly that the NSA, it’s allies, authoritarian governments, and even private enterprise could all abuse this technology, adding that mass surveillance is a "global problem” which has led to "less liberal and safe societies.”