THE whistleblower has been hailed both a hero and a traitor for leaking the biggest cache of classified information in history.
But who is Edward Snowden, where is he now and who’s his girlfriend? Here’s what we know…
Who is Edward Snowden and where is he now?
The 35-year-old computer professional is a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee and ex-contractor for the United States Government.
In May 2013 he fled to Hong Kong after leaving his job at an National Security Agency (NSA) facility in Hawaii, before leaking millions of classified NSA documents from a hotel room.
On June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed charges against Snowden of two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property.
Snowden was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, and now lives at a closely guarded location at an secret address in Moscow.
If sent back home by Putin when his asylum ends in 2020, he could face a 1,000 year prison sentence for treachery.
Snowden has recently said that he would like to return back to the US, only if he’s granted a fair trial.
He said returning to the States is the “ultimate goal.”
What did he do?
Snowden copied classified documents before leaking them slowly to a number of publications, starting with The Guardian in June 2013.
His leaks were also published in Der Spiegel in Germany, the New York Times, Le Monde in France and numerous other publications across the globe.
It is thought he copied and leaked around 1.7million National Security Agency files, though the exact number is not known.
These consisted of 160,000 intercepted email and instant message conversations and 7,900 documents from more than 11,000 online accounts.
The vast cache included 900,000 Department of Defence files, 15,000 or more Australian intelligence files and 58,000 British intelligence files.
He has always claimed his actions were not a betrayal of his country but a public service to expose the massive surveillance capabilities and abuses of the American and British secret states.
What secrets did he leak?
The disclosure revealed unknown details of a global surveillance apparatus run by the NSA in cooperation with three of its Five Eye partners – Australia’s ASD, the UK’s GVHQ and Canada’s CSEC.
The bugging of more than 100 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angel Merkel, caused huge diplomatic embarrassment.
One programme revealed was PRISM, which allows for court-approved direct access to Americans’ Google and Yahoo accounts.
Reports also gave details of Tempora, a British black-ops surveillance programme run by GCHQ.
These showed Verizon had handed the NSA millions of American’s phone records daily. the surveillance of French citizens’ phone and Internet records, and those of “high-profile individuals from the world of business or politics.”
The NSA’s top-secret black budget exposed the successes and failures of the 16 spy agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community, and revealed that the NSA was paying U.S. private tech companies for clandestine access to their communications networks.
The NSA, the CIA and GCHQ spied on users of Second Life, Xbox Live and World of Warcraft, and attempted to recruit would-be informants from the sites, according to documents revealed in December 2013.
Snowden also provided evidence that GCHQ – Britain’s NSA equivalent – had tapped fibre optic cables around the world to collect vast amounts of private internet data.
In March 2014 the Guardian‘s then editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said that only one percent of the documents had been published.
Who’s his girlfriend?
Snowden’s partner is Lindsay Mills.
The former pole dancer has been credited with Snowden’s transformation from a patriot to whistleblower.
She describes herself as a “world-travelling, pole-dancing super hero”.
She visits him frequently in Russia from her home in the US.
Her Instagram profile features several snaps of her with Snowden — cuddling up eating fried chicken, playing video games and even posing as Where’s Wally.
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Did the leaks bring about change?
After the dust of outrage and admiration settled, it can be hard to discern exactly what change has been brought about.
But Snowden’s influence can be seen – even among the governments who spurn him.
The US Congress passed the Freedom Act in 2015, curbing the mass collection of phone data, and a year later the UK parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act.
Collaboration between intelligence agencies and internet companies has also been impacted – for example the introduction of end-to-end encryption at messaging service Whatsapp.
Snowden has rejected claims by some privacy campaigners that little has changed in the past five years.
He told the Guardian: “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance.
“But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”
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