Will controversial American whistleblower Edward Snowden trade vodka sampling in Moscow for sightseeing in the European Union? In a close 285 to 281 vote, the European Parliament has called on member states to drop all criminal charges and protect him as a “human rights defender” from U.S. extradition.
Snowden, a former contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency, leaked documents about top-secret mass surveillance programs. He fled the United States in 2013 and has been evading extradition in Russia ever since. He described the Parliaments motion to be a “game changer” and “a chance to move forward” on Twitter.
Believing that too little has been done to safeguard citizens’ rights in the realm of electronic mass surveillance, members of European Parliament raised concerns regarding not only Snowden but data transfers to the U.S. in general and the incongruity of surveillance laws in EU countries.
“The European Parliament’s inquiry into Edward Snowden’s revelations of electronic mass surveillance was the most comprehensive investigation completed to date,” Claude Moraes, chair of the Civil Liberties Committee and rapporteur on mass surveillance stated in a press release. “This work needs to continue to ensure that civil liberties are defended on the Internet too.”
While Parliaments vote was a largely symbolic measure, Snowden’s fate is left to member state’s willingness to risk an icy relationship with the U.S. government.
“We welcome today’s decision of the European Parliament recognizing Edward Snowden as a human rights defender and calling upon member states to grant him protection from prosecution,” Snowden’s lawyer in Berlin, Wolfgang Kaleck, wrote in an emailed statement. “It is an overdue step and we urge the member States to act now to implement the resolution.”
Being promised due process, Snowden has been charged with three felony counts by the American government including violation of the Espionage Act of 1917, which forbids the disclosure of state secrets.
During the most recent U.S. Democratic Debate for the impending 2016 election feelings toward Snowden remained cold as ever. “He broke the laws of the United States,” Hilary Clinton stated, highlighting how he could have shed light on the subject without criminal action. “In addition, he stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into the wrong hands. I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.”
The European Parliament vote came the same day as a New York Federal Appeals court refused the action to immediately halt the government’s systematic collection of millions of U.S. phone records. Raising questions due to the fact that a federal surveillance plan set for the following month bans mass collection anyway.
To some Snowden is a hero, to others a defector, only time will tell where this whistleblower will find haven, but for citizens of the European Union Parliaments vote could mean your new neighbor will be bringing classified documents to the next town gathering.