Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American computer specialist, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who disclosed a large number of top secret NSA documents to several media outlets . The leaked documents revealed operational details of a global surveillance apparatus run by the NSA and other members of the Five Eyes alliance, along with numerous commercial and international partners.
The release of classified material was called the most significant leak in US history by Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. A series of exposésbeginning June 5, 2013 revealed Internet surveillance programs such as PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora, as well as the interception of US and European telephone metadata. The reports were based on documents Snowden leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post while employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. By November 2013, The Guardian had published one percent of the documents, with “the worst yet to come”.
Snowden flew to Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii on May 20, 2013, where he later met with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and released his copies of the NSA documents. After disclosing his identity, he flew from Hong Kong and landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on June 23, reportedly for a one-night layover en route to Ecuador. US officials revoked his passport upon his arrival in Russia, where he remained stranded in the airport transit zone until August 1, when the Russian government granted him a one-year temporary asylum, renewable annually.
A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a traitor, and a patriot.
Snowden’s “sole motive” for leaking the documents was, in his words, “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” The disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy. Two court rulings since the initial leaks have split on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program to collect metadata on nearly every telephone call made in or to the United States.
Snowden is considered a fugitive by American authorities who in June 2013 charged him with espionage and theft of government property. In early 2014, numerous media outlets and politicians issued calls for leniency in the form of clemency, amnesty or pardon, while others called for him to be imprisoned or killed. He lives in an undisclosed location in Russia and, according to German politician Hans-Christian Ströbele, continues to seek permanent asylum “in a ‘democratic’ country” such as Germany or France.