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Edward Snowden is a former National Security Agency subcontractor who made headlines in 2013 when he leaked top secret information about NSA surveillance activities.
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On May 20, 2013, Snowden took a flight to Hong Kong, China, where he remained during the early stages of the fallout. This fallout began the following month, on June 5, when the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper released secret documents obtained from Snowden about an American intelligence body (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) demanding that Verizon release information "on a daily basis" culled from its American customers' activities.
The following day,
the Guardian and the Washington Times released Snowden's leaked information on PRISM, an NSA program that allows real-time information collection, in this case, solely information on American citizens. A flood of information followed, and the American people, the international community and the U.S. government have since been scrambling to either hear more about it or have Snowden arrested.
"I'm willing to sacrifice [my former life] because I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," Snowden said after the fact, in a series of interviews given in his Hong Kong hotel room.
The U.S. government saw a different side of the issue, and on June 14, 2013, federal prosecutors charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person. The last two charges fall under the Espionage Act. (Before President Barack Obama took office, the act had only been used for prosecutorial purposes three times since 1917; Since President Obama took office, it had been invoked seven times as of June 2013.)
Snowden remained in hiding for nearly one month, first asking Ecuador for asylum and then fleeing Hong Kong for Russia, whose government has denied the U.S. request to extradite him. By late June 2013, more than 100,000 people had signed an online petition asking Obama to pardon Snowden.
The following month, Snowden made headlines again when it was announced that he had been offered asylum in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Around the same time, it was reported that Snowden was "stuck in transit" in Moscow after the U.S. annulled his passport, and that he had not yet made a decision on where, of the countries offering him asylum, he would be relocating.
In late July, Snowden seemed to have made up his mind. He expressed an interest in staying in Russia. One of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, gave an interview with CBS News. Kucherena said that Snowden would seek temporary asylum in Russia and possibly apply for Russian citizenship later. Snowden thanked Russia for giving him asylum and said that "in the end the law is winning."
That October, Snowden revealed that he no longer possessed any of the NSA files that he leaked to press. He gave those materials to the journalists he met with in Hong Kong, but he didn't keep any copies for himself.
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