In 2013, National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of documents detailing US government surveillance to the press, igniting a global debate on the ways authorities can watch citizens’ communications.
Snowden was one of tens of thousands of people who had access to data collected by the NSA.
The revelations detailed the extent of the PRISM programme, which allows NSA agents and contractors to view any user’s metadata based on a number of search terms. This warrantless surveillance is seen as a breach of the US’s fourth amendment, which guarantees the right to privacy.
Snowden also revealed details of the UK’s TEMPORA programme, which intercepts data carried on fibre optic cables to allow agents to monitor communication, again without a warrant.
After leaking 58,000 files, he fled from his home in Hawaii to Hong Kong, and from there to Moscow, where he found himself stranded after the US government revoked his passport.
Snowden’s revelations have shown the lack of scrutiny and oversight intelligence agencies face. Equally worrying has been the willingness of the UK government to try to intimidate the Guardian, with veiled threats of prosecution after it published a mere fraction of the information contained in the leaked files.
As a whistleblower, Snowden has in fact helped make the world more secure by highlighting the potential abuse of monitoring capabilities and there have been calls to grant him asylum in the European Union. Above all else, he has got the world talking about what privacy and free expression mean in an age when surveillance has never been easier.
Join us 20 March 2014 at the Barbican Centre for the Freedom of Expression Awards