03/04/2015 12:09 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT

Snowden Archive: Database Of Leaked Docs Available In Canada

TORONTO - Terrorism is "an extraordinarily rare natural disaster" and should not be used as an excuse by government to pass laws that limit our rights and freedoms, former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden said Wednesday.

Snowden made the comments via video link at the unveiling in Toronto of the Snowden Archive — an online database of hundreds of classified U.S. government documents he leaked to the media in 2013.

The archive is a joint project between Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Politics of Surveillance Project at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. It is the first time the leaked documents have been indexed and made fully searchable online.

Snowden, who remains exiled in Russia since leaking the classified documents about the NSA's surveillance programs, has often spoken publicly against over-reaching laws passed in many countries in the wake of terrorist attacks.

Asked to comment on Ottawa's anti-terrorism bill, which will be scrutinized at a Commons committee starting next week, Snowden said it was "an emulation of the American Patriot Act."

"They're trying to say 'look we face an extraordinary national security risk that poses an existential threat to Canada,'" he said.

"Terrorism is an extraordinarily rare natural disaster...but no matter what we do, no matter what laws we pass, we cannot throw away all of our rights, all of our liberties, all of our traditional freedoms, because we're afraid of rare instances of criminal activity."

Snowden said freedom and liberty are worth some level of risk.

"Prisons in many ways are inverted castles — you're very safe when you're surrounded by bars and concrete but I don't think that's the way that most Canadians want to live," he said.

"And we shouldn't pass laws that make us live in conditions that are more similar to that simply on the basis of a rare external threat."

CJFE said the Snowden Archive is a resource that offers journalists, researchers and concerned citizens insight into government surveillance practices.

"The archive can help everyone learn more about how our governments are watching us all."

Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and could face up to 30 years in prison.

His lawyer said Tuesday that Snowden wants to return to the United States from Russia if he's guaranteed a fair trial. Anatoly Kucherena said that he has teamed up with U.S. and German lawyers to work on the issue, but gave no further details.

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