Amid calls by officials to bring him to the book

Following the dramatic weekend unveiling of his identity, Edward Snowden (29), the former CIA technician and Booz Allen Hamilton contractor behind one of the biggest leaks of classified information in U.S. intelligence history, has become the centre of a visceral national argument on whether his actions have made him a hero or a traitor.

Last week, The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed in detail the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM and Boundless Informant data-mining tools, allegedly used by spies to covertly suck up vast amounts of data from the servers of major Internet companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook, and across nations worldwide, including India.

Despite the sheer scale of the perceived intrusion into citizens’ private lives, a White House petition titled “Pardon Edward Snowden” has been created on June 9 and by mid-day on June 11 it had already acquired over 48,000 signatories. According to White House petition rules, a petition needs 150 signatures to be publicly searchable on the WhiteHouse.Gov website and reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days to get an official response.

While the creator of the petition was unknown except for their initials “P.M.” and location of Rochester, New York, the petition marks one of numerous efforts by civil liberty and Internet privacy groups across the country who appeared alarmed by the suggestion that intelligence officials authorised by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court could conduct warrantless searches of phone records and Internet communications of millions of customers.

Among them Daniel Ellsberg, activist and 1969 whistleblower in the ‘Pentagon Papers’ case regarding U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War, described the NSA’s surveillance programmes as a “dangerous unconstitutional activity”.

He said with Mr. Snowden “having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage,” the way “up and out of the abyss,” would be for public pressure to compel Congress to bring the intelligence community “under real supervision and restraint and restore the protections of the bill of rights”.

Yet not only intelligence officials such as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, but also senior Republicans and Democrats in Congress have suggested that the person behind the leak was at fault for damaging U.S. intelligence interests, and called for his capture and arrest.

“I hope we follow Mr Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Twitter, describing his actions as “not as one of patriotism but potentially a felony”. Similarly Democratic Senator Bill said Mr. Snowden’s “act of treason” required his “extradition and prosecution.”

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