Controversial US whistleblower Edward Snowden, responsible for the most significant intelligence leaks in US history, has been voted euronews’ Person of 2013.
The 30-year-old, who is living in Russia having been granted temporary asylum, was chosen by 47% per cent of euronews.com viewers.
He beat off competition from Pope Francis, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian president Vladimir Putin to triumph in our poll. The vote was open to viewers of euronews.com and was promoted across our social network sites, including Facebook and Twitter.
Snowden, unknown six months ago, shot to prominence after leaking hundreds of thousands of National Security Agency (NSA) files. His revelations exposed the extent of internet surveillance and intelligence gathering by the US and its western allies.
The leaks, provided to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, included revelations the NSA tapped into the servers of several internet firms – including Facebook – to track online communication.
They also uncovered the NSA’s practice of collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans. Security chiefs ordered one of the US’ biggest phone companies to disclose metadata of all the calls that it processes. This included telephone numbers, serial numbers of phones used and the time and duration of the calls. But it did not include the content of the call or the callers’ addresses.
The revelations by Snowden, a former NSA contractor, transformed his life and forced him to go on the run. He is effectively trapped in Russia – if he leaves he is likely to face arrest and extradition to the US, where he has been charged with espionage.
His disclosures also showed the US had spied on Germany, France, China, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and dozens of world leaders.
Snowden has said his sole motive for leaking was to “inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them”. In a note sent with his first set of leaks, he told the Guardian: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions. I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
He added: “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.”
Asked why he gave up his freedom and a comfortable lifestyle to begin leaking, he said: “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.
“The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to.”
To others – notably a significant number of euronews.com viewers – he is a heroic defender of civil liberties who has weakened governments’ ability to spy on their citizens.
Last year’s winner was Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai , who was chosen by more than half of euronews’ journalists (52%) and 26% of visitors to euronews.com. Malala, who championed the cause of education for girls, was shot in the head by the Taliban at the age of 15. She has since made a full recovery and collected the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for 2013.