Fact Box: whistleblower Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden, a 32-year-old American, is one of the most prominent whistleblowers of our age and has become a symbol for standing up against violations of basic freedoms. A film about Snowden and his whistleblowing, CitizenFour, won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2015. That same year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the USA Freedom Act that is supposed to limit surveillance on private citizens.
Snowden worked as a contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on several jobs until 2013, and during that time was able to observe abuses he then decided to make public. That year, Snowden began to have direct contact with journalists from The Washington Post and The Guardian. In May and June 2013, stories came out in these newspapers about the U.S. Government's PRISM surveillance program gathering data from Google, Facebook and other digital platforms; and also about a court order requiring Verizon to hand over to the NSA the phone records of millions of people in the U.S.
The whistleblower's revelations on secret and illegal surveillance by the NSA continued, in quick succession, as he left the U.S. for Hong Kong and the newspapers released his name as their source. Soon it also came out, in other international media outlets such as Der Spiegel, that the NSA had been spying not only inside the U.S., but also on allies such as the EU, Germany and Brazil. By August 2013, Snowden had applied for and received asylum in Russia, where he remains to this day. Despite a petition with more than 167,000 signatures asking for Snowden's pardon, the U.S. Government has refused to do so and continues to call for his return to repond to charges in the U.S. Snowden has offered to return to the U.S. if he can be guaranteed a fair trial, and has even offered to go to prison.