It looks as if Edward Snowden has formally applied for "temporary asylum" in Russia. While not exactly a surprise - he made it clear to Human Rights Watch and others last week that was his intention – the delay had kept some people guessing a few days longer.
He’s been calling this move “temporary,” a stop before he secures a hoped-for destination in Latin America, where a number of countries have been annoying the US by holding out the possibility of offering asylum to Snowden. (That is, if he can actually get to any of these places given Washington’s efforts to thwart his travel plans).
Snowden deserves to have his asylum claim treated fairly, and while his case is being considered it's important to focus on the serious issues raised by the information he has disclosed about the surveillance programs
For one thing, his personal situation has overshadowed a crucial public debate about the incredible scope of US national security surveillance and the way it highlights how technological advances are being abused by governments and undermining privacy and other rights. There is an urgent need for the US to reevaluate and rewrite surveillance laws and put in place better safeguards against security agency overreach.
Another issue that needs more attention is the lack of any real legal protection for national security whistleblowers so that people don’t have to flee in order to safely draw public attention to wrongful or unethical government actions.
Finally, many of the states currently being mentioned as destinations for Snowden have bad rights track records themselves. Russia is currently cracking down on hundreds of non-government groups, while Venezuela has intimidated, censored and prosecuted government critics. We hope their interest in protecting Snowden’s rights will extend to their own critics and whistleblowers.