Edward Snowden – the most famous whistleblower in the 21st century

Goran Lefkov

Edward Joseph Snowden was born on June 21, 1983 and is a former American computer intelligence consultant. He disclosed highly classified information from the US National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. He was employed by a subcontractor company. The materials revealed by Snowden exposed global surveillance programs, many of them run by the NSA, with the help of telecommunications companies and European governments as partners.

In 2013, Snowden was hired by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He had previously worked at Dell and the CIA. Snowden said he grew increasingly disillusioned with the programs he was involved with and tried to raise his ethical concerns through internal channels, but was ignored. On May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii, and in early June he disclosed thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewen MacAskill. Snowden gained international attention after his materials were published in the Guardian, Washington Post and other influential media outlets.

On June 21, 2013, the United States Department of Justice disclosed charges against Snowden on two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property, prompting the State Department to revoke his passport. Two days later, he landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where Russian authorities examined the invalidated passport and he remained in the airport terminal for more than a month. Russia later granted Snowden asylum with an initial one-year visa, which was subsequently repeatedly extended. In October 2020, he received permanent residence in Russia.

Snowden has often been called a traitor, a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a coward, and a patriot. Still, his materials have fueled debates about mass recording, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and citizen privacy. In early 2016, Snowden became president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that aims to protect journalists from hacking and government surveillance. He is also employed by an unnamed Russian IT company. In 2017, he married Lindsay Mills. On September 17, 2019, his autobiography “Permanent Record” was published. The US federal court has ruled that the mass intelligence surveillance program exposed by Snowden is illegal and possibly unconstitutional.