Edward Snowden, the man who leaked details of the U.S. government's secret monitoring of telephone calls and the Internet, says he plans to stay in Hong Kong and fight any U.S. effort to extradite him to face possible criminal charges.
The 29-year-old Snowden told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday that his intention "is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."
Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S. and has turned over some fugitives to the American government in recent years. But China retains the authority to block extraditions from its Hong Kong territory if it considers the allegations against suspects to be political.
Snowden said that people who think he made a mistake in traveling to Hong Kong before identifying himself as the source of the leaks about the surveillance programs "misunderstand my intentions." He told the newspaper, "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality."
With his revelation of the secret monitoring, a lively debate is underway in the U.S. about how Snowden should be viewed.
He told the newspaper, "I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American."
The U.S. government has acknowledged that in its fight against terrorism the National Security Agency has collected vast information about telephone calls, but says it has not listened to conversations. It also says it has monitored foreign use of the Internet through networks owned by major U.S. Internet companies.
Three of the world's biggest technology companies, U.S.-based Google, Facebook and Microsoft, are asking the Obama administration to let them reveal details of federal court orders to turn over information about their users to U.S. spy agencies. The companies say they want everything transparent and out in the open.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, revealed details about the Internet and telephone surveillance to the The Guardian newspaper in Britain and The Washington Post. He said it is important to reveal what he says is the government's massive surveillance program on private citizens.
The U.S. government says information gathered by the NSA has foiled terrorist plots. The Justice Department is considering possible criminal charges against Snowden.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging whether the NSA spy program is constitutional. The ACLU argues that the spying violates the rights to free speech and privacy. An ACLU attorney says the U.S. Constitution does not let the government carry out unsuspected surveillance of every person in the country.