US prosecutors have filed a complaint against the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who was responsible for leaking thousands of documents revealing the PRISM program, charging him with espionage, according to some reports.
Prosecutors have also asked Hong Kong law enforcement to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant.
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According to reports by RT and Washington Post, Snowden has been charged with espionage, theft and conversion of government property; and prosecutors now have up to 60 days to file an indictment before they can start the extradition process. Snowden can challenge the extradition, which can take many months and is likely to go to the highest court in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong does have an extradition treaty with the US, however it does have an exception for political offenses, which espionage has traditionally fallen under. The US would have to prove that the charges are not political.
While China and Hong Kong have separate legislative and judicial arms, Beijing can still intervene in the case and legally block extradition on foreign affairs or extradition matters (e,g. defence matters), according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
He could also apply for asylum in Hing Kong or in another country. Wikileaks is reportedly trying secure him asylum with Iceland, with a businessman even offering to fly Snowden to the Nordic country if the request has been granted.
Snowden was responsible for leaking thousands of documents to The Guardian revealing the extent of US government surveillance. It first started when The Guardian revealed that the NSA had been collecting phone records of Verizon customers daily, but the most public was the revelation of the PRISM program to spy on non-Americans.
PRISM had access to data from other internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft without a warrant due to changes in US surveillance law that allowed for targeting of international users who are “customers” of participating firms. All the tech companies listed have said that they have not given unfettered access to users’ data and had no knowledge of the PRISM or any other scheme.
“We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday,” Google’s CEO Larry Page and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in a blog post.
“Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.”