One year ago, Russia granted Edward Snowden temporary asylum after a 39-day stay for the NSA whistleblower in the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Snowden had become stranded there while trying to flee to Latin America, where several countries had offered permanent asylum after the U.S. government filed charges against him for making off with thousands of classified documents about its surveillance programs.
Since then, the Snowden story has unfolded in dramatic ways for a nonstop 12 months — as the world reacted to the vast amount of information that his files contained — sparking revelation after revelation about some of the nation’s most cherished secrets. It has also sparked a fierce policy debate over how to make intelligence organizations more accountable.
In the last six months alone, reports based on Snowden’s files have included important new details about how the NSA collects large amounts of American data under the guise of foreign surveillance. It has been shown that the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ targeted Muslim community leaders and online activists — possibly crossing the line between surveillance and censorship.
For many anti-secrecy activists and civil rights campaigners, the avalanche of stories over the past year has seemed to prove many of the things they had previously only suspected, when it came to surveillance actions and the way intelligence gathering was being used.
“The primary significance, in my view at least, of the Snowden disclosures is that it … presented to the American public documents that were actually written by the government proving, in fact, that what we [the ACLU] had been saying was true,” said Kade Crockford, who directs the Technology for Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and edits its Privacy Matters blog.
Yet while the headlines have been dominated by Snowden’s leaks, much of his own life over the past 12 months has remained in the shadows. Earlier this month, his lawyers said they had filed for an extension of his asylum in Russia beyond the July 31 expiration. According to a recent interview in The Guardian, which along with The Washington Post first reported on the Snowden leaks, it appears he spends his time in Russia working on digital privacy tools, reading Dostoevsky and giving talks about surveillance via videoconference.