Depending on whom you ask, National Security Agency (NSA) contract employee Edward Snowden is either a hero or a traitor for leaking details about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs to the media.
Snowden on Sunday identified himself as the person who had provided The Guardian and other newspapers with details of a top-secret phone records data collection program by the NSA and another covert program called PRISM involving both the NSA and the FBI.
The revelations sparked widespread concern over dragnet-style domestic surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies. While President Barack Obama and members of his administration have justified the programs as necessary to combat terrorism, privacy and civil rights advocates have blasted them as being far too broad and overreaching.
In a video interview with the Guardian, Snowden said he had blown the whistle on the two programs because of concerns over the extensive nature of the surveillance being carried out by the government in the name of terrorism.
Snowden, who reportedly earns $200,000 working at the NSA as an employee of government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, said he was willing to risk everything to inform the American people about the surveillance activities.
"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 in his interview. He is currently in hiding in Hong Kong and has said he would seek political asylum in Iceland or any country that is willing to have him.
Snowden's actions drew praise from the likes of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame and filmmaker Michael Moore as well as conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. He described Snowden in a Twitter message as a "real hero."
Daniel Ellsberg, the source of the famous Pentagon Papers leak to the New York Times more than 40 years ago described Snowden's release of the NSA papers as the most important leak in American history.
In an opinion piece for the Guardian, Ellsberg called Snowden a patriot whose actions give the U.S, an opportunity to "roll back a key part of what has amounted to an 'executive coup' against the U.S. constitution."
In a statement on the Campaign for Liberty blog, former GOP presidential contender Ron Paul said Snowden had done a "great service" by exposing the surveillance programs.
Meanwhile, a petition by Snowden's supporters to the White House seeking pardon for his actions appears to be gathering steam. By 5 p.m. ET Monday, the petition had already garnered more than 26,000 votes and looked well on its way to getting the 100,000 signatures needed for a formal White House response.
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