11 Jun 2013

Prism leaker's whereabouts unknown

9:59 pm on 11 June 2013

The White House is refusing to say whether the Obama administration will attempt to extradite and charge the intelligence analyst who leaked details of a massive secret American surveillance programme.

Prism required America's major communications companies to pass on data including email, photos, videos, chat services, file transfers, stored data, log-ins and video conferencing.

Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, is in Hong Kong where he has gone into hiding after leaving the hotel where he was staying. However, he is believed to still be in the Chinese territory.

The 29-year-old leaked details of top-secret phone and internet surveillance, saying he had an "obligation to help free people from oppression".

It emerged last week that US agencies were gathering millions of phone records and monitoring internet data. A spokesperson for the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the case had been referred to the Department of Justice as a criminal matter.

Mr Snowden is free to move in and out of Hong Kong and as an American he can come into the territory on a social pass that would be good for up to 90 days, the BBC reports.

But in the last few weeks he has told journalists at Britain's The Guardian newspaper he has pretty much kept to himself, only going out a few times.

American officials have not asked for an extradition order or sought help from the Hong Kong authorities so far. The government in Hong Kong said they would not comment on specific cases and that if there is an extradition order, they will carry it out according to law.

The US and Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty in 1996 a year before the city reverted to Chinese sovereignty under which both parties agreed to hand over fugitives.

Edward Snowden revealed that he was in Hong Kong in an interview with The Guardian published on Sunday. He said he chose the territory due to its "strong tradition of free speech".

The ABC reports he has now expressed an interest in seeking asylum in Iceland, which he describes as a country that stands up for internet freedoms.

However, immigration director Kristin Volundardottir said no application has so far been received and Mr Snowden would have to travel there to be able to submit an asylum application.

Meanwhile a petition posted on the White House website, calling for Mr Snowden's immediate pardon has gathered more than 30,000 signatures. If it gains 100,000 signatures by 9 July, the White House has to review it, forward it to policy experts and issue an official response.

My hero - Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says Edward Snowden is a hero. Mr Assange, who is confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex charges, said he has exposed the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state.

He said there is a growing number of people who feel the same way as those working in Wikileaks and he was pleased to see such clear and concrete proof of surveillance abuses presented to the public.

Mr Assange told the ABC on Monday that had had indirect contact with Mr Snowden, but would not give further details.

Canada and Australia

A newspaper in Canada says the government there has also been electronically eavesdropping on Canadians and others.

The Globe & Mail said Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed a ministerial directive renewing the programme in November 2011 after a brief hiatus over concerns that it could lead to surveillance of Canadians without a warrant.

The programme originated during the Cold War to spy on Soviet states, but its mandate shifted in 2005 amid rising fears of terrorist networks. It is operated by Communications Security Establishment Canada agency.

Meanwhile, Australian Federal Police accessed more than 40,000 phone and computer records last year without a warrant. The police also tried to obtain Facebook and Google data, according to Fairfax media.

AFP deputy commissioner Michael Phelan reportedly told a Senate estimates hearing two weeks ago that federal police made 43,362 internal requests for "metadata" on Australian phone and internet records last financial year.

No warrant is required for this type of information, which includes the phone number called, the time of the call and its duration, AAP reports.