Some national security advocates are calling for the prosecution of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who leaked details of a top secret U.S. surveillance program. But Snowden’s supporters say he should be protected as a whistleblower for exposing U.S. constitutional violations of civil liberties.
To many who support increased security even at the cost of some personal privacy, Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who exposed vast government surveillance programs, is a villain.
The information he revealed included NSA programs to collect phone records and gain access to the Internet usage of millions of Americans. U.S. officials say the programs are legal and the data they gathered has stopped several terrorist plots.
Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wants Snowden to be tried for espionage.
“It's dangerous to our national security and it violates the oath of which that person took. I absolutely think they should be prosecuted," said Rogers.
But to others who think the NSA has exceeded its legal authority, Snowden is a hero for speaking out. Jesselyn Radack is with the Government Accountability Project.
“I think he is a whistleblower and it was incredibly brave, well thought out, risky action that he took for the benefit of people in this country. So I can’t think of a better definition of a hero," said Radack.
She says the NSA data mining programs that Snowden leaked intrude on the privacy of Americans beyond the limits set by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008 and the Patriot Act.
“So the laws have been clearly broken and he definitely disclosed information that reveals massive waste, abuse and patent illegality on a grand scale that I have not seen in a long time," said Radack.
President Obama has said that while the programs are classified, they are authorized by Congress. White House spokesman Jay Carney declined Monday to comment on the ongoing investigation, but said the president has tried to balance privacy rights with keeping Americans safe.
“I think the president’s record on making the kinds of changes that he promised he would make to the ways that we pursue our fight against al-Qaida and our fight against terrorists and extremists, he has lived up to," said Carney.
Snowden is currently in Hong Kong and plans to seek asylum from any countries that he says believe in protecting free speech and global privacy.