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Edward Joseph Snowden (born on June 21, 1983 – Elizabeth City, North Carolina, US) is an American who was employed with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)as a technical assistant and had worked for 4 years at the NSA (National Security Agency) as a contractor with firms such as Dell and currently Booz Allen Hamilton.
Based on information provided by Snowden to the British newspaper in May 2013, The Guardian started to publish a series of exposes revealing that the NSA operated a major web of spying programs which allowed it to tape the telephonic and electronic communications of about a billion people from across the world. Snowden's identity was revealed by The Guardian on his request on June 9, 2013. Snowden fled to Hong Kong SAR before the revelations were published. Snowden has been at the heart of a heated debate about the correctness of his actions. While NSA claims that the wiretapping was not an intrusion of privacy but a legitimate means of intercepting communications from terrorists. Snowden contends that he simply wanted the public to know that the government was watching and recording people who were doing no wrong. Snowden claims his revelation was an attempt “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
Privacy And Liberty
"The N.S.A. has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under." - Edward Snowden
In his interview with The Guardian, Mr. Snowden claimed that his concern was that the privacy and security of ordinary people were at stake due to the NSA surveillance program. He claimed that the US government's secret surveillance program would destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world and he believed it was his duty to bring it out to the open for the citizens of the US to decide if they wanted the program to go on.
Snowden's actions have won him support from various quarters across the world.
"What he has disclosed is patently in the public interest and as a whistleblower his actions were justified. He has exposed unlawful sweeping surveillance programmes that unquestionably interfere with an individual’s right to privacy. States that attempt to stop a person from revealing such unlawful behaviour are flouting international law. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right." - Amnesty International
Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, Transparency International, and Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler have come out in clear support of Mr. Snowden
“Snowden Is No Hero”
"... he wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done." - Jeffrey Toobin (The New Yorker)
Snowden’s decision to expose the details of NSA’s surveillance program has been severely criticized by many. The Obama administration claims that the program is not used to spy on Americans but is used to intercept terrorist communications in the country and elsewhere.
The fact that Snowden did not address his concerns through the US whistleblowers law and his escape from the country have also raised concerns about his intentions.
Whistleblower Or Traitor?
Polls and surveys conducted between June 2013 and August 2013 show that Americans are deeply divided in their opinion on Edward Snowden.
According to a national poll released by the Quinnipiac University, about 55% voters regard Snowden as a whistleblower while only about 34% think of him as a traitor. According to the poll, the view of the NSA analyst as a whistleblower was held by American voters of all ages, genders, income and political party groups. The only group which showed a significant difference was the black voter group - 43% believed he is a traitor and 42% consider him a whistleblower. This survey was conducted on July 10. A follow-up of this poll was published on August 1 and reported that the results remain unchanged.
A HuffPost/YouGov poll, however, suggests that Americans are increasingly subscribing to the opinion that Snowden is a traitor. The results of the poll, released in early July 2013 suggest that 38% Americans think that Snowden was wrong in releasing the classified documents while 33% believe he was right. 29% Americans were unsure and undecided.An earlier HuffPost/YouGov poll revealed that 38% Americans called Mr. Snowden a whistleblower and only 35% thought he did the wrong thing. This suggests that Snowden has been losing support in the US.
The charges faced by Snowden in the US include theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person (charges filed through a complaint dated June 14, 2013).Theft of government property has been charged under Title 18, United States Code, section 641. Snowden's charges of unauthorized communication of national defense information fall under Title 18, United States Code, section 793(d). Willful communication of classified communications information to an unauthorized party is a violation of Title 18, United States Code, section 798(a)(3). The two latter charges constitute espionage under the U.S. Espionage Act.
Snowden, if convicted of these charges, could face a term of up to 10 years in jail apart from other penalties. Federal prosecutors chose to file the criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden’s employer is headquartered. At the time of filing the complaint, Snowden was hiding in Hong Kong. By filing a criminal complaint, United States authorities created a legal foundation for requesting extradition of Snowden from foreign governments. If Snowden is extradited, he will face criminal trial in the United States.
“I Do Not Expect To See Home Again”
Snowden left for Hong Kong from the US on May 20, 2013. As an employee of NSA, he would have been required to declare foreign travel a month in advance. "There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that", he said in an interview with The Guardian." The US immediately sought an extradition from Hong Kong authorities.
Snowden had indicated that Iceland would be his choice of nation to seek asylum. Iceland administration, however, stated that a request for asylum to the nation would have to be made from within the seeker's country.
During his stay at the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, Snowden received the support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who tried to arrange for an asylum in Iceland. On June 23, even as the US moved to revoke his passport, Snowden left for Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow aboard Aeroflot flight SU213 in the company of Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks representative. While Hong Kong authorities did not detain Snowden since the extradition request was still under deliberation, the US Department of Justice expressed disappointment at the lack of detention despite a formal request.
WikiLeaks issued a statement that on July 1, 2013, Snowden had applied for political asylum to 20 different countries - Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, and Venezuela. Most of the countries turned his application down on the grounds that he had to be on American soil or in a border post to apply for asylum.A later announcement from WikiLeaks said that Snowden had made 6 other applications but the names of these countries were not disclosed. Snowden accused the Washington administration of pressuring nations to turn down his asylum plea.
On July 1, Bolivian President Evo Morales had his plane searched when it temporarily landed in Vienna following a rumor that Snowden was aboard. The rumor seems to have originated from the office of the US ambassador to Austria. On July 1, Ecuador had initially offered Snowden a temporary travel card but withdrew it quickly, referring to it as a mistake under the pretext that the card had neither validity not authorization. Nicaragua and Venezuela showed willingness to offer Snowden political asylum.
On June 25, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially announced Snowden's arrival at the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. As a transit passenger he did not require a Russian visa. While Putin suggested that Snowden was free to leave any time he wished, and should do so as soon as possible. There was no basis for extradition, since he had not committed any crimes on Russian soil. "We can only hand over foreign citizens to countries with which we have an appropriate international agreement on the extradition of criminals," said Putin. The Russian president vehemently denied that Mr. Snowden was working in association with Russian security agencies and expressed hope that Mr. Snowden’s presence would not hurt relations with the United States.
On July 1, President Putin indicated that Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia asylum in Russia and his application would only be considered if he stopped hurting American interests. Snowden’s asylum was believed to be withdrawn following this statement.
On July 16, 2013, officials from the Russian Federal Migration Service announced that they had received an application from Snowden for temporary asylum in Russia. The application was made on the grounds that the American would face possible torture and execution if extradited to the US. On July 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assured that Snowden would not be tortured and would not receive death penalty if returned to the US. On August 1, 2013, however, he was granted temporary asylum in Russia, valid for a year. Snowden then left for a location kept secret for security purposes. By August 7, Washington officials announced the cancellation of a series of bilateral talks between the two countries in the light of the asylum. Russia expressed disappointment in the matter. The US and Russia lack an extradition treaty and international law experts believe that Russia was legally obliged to grant Snowden temporary asylum.