EU Parliament Asks European Countries to Protect Edward Snowden from the US

Snowden scores a symbolic victory, but his legal situation is unlikely to change in the short term.

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Oct 29 2015, 4:15pm

Image: Gage Skidmore/Shutterstock

The European Parliament does not consider Edward Snowden a traitor or a criminal, but a "human rights defender" who deserves to be protected by all European countries.

The European Parliament passed a resolution Thursday that calls for all European countries to "drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender."

The resolution was passed by a narrow vote, 285 to 281. And while it's a largely symbolic victory, it does send a message to the United States government, which charged Snowden with espionage in the summer of 2013, and is waiting to extradite him to the United States so he can stand trial for leaking hundreds of NSA top secret documents, as well as to European governments.

Snowden called it a "game-changer" on Twitter, though he also said it's not a "blow" to the US government.

Wolfgang Kaleck, Snowden's lawyer in Europe, applauded the resolution, saying in a statement that "it is an overdue step and we urge the member states to act now to implement the resolution."

The American Civil Liberties Union's Ben Wizner, who is Snowden's lawyer in the US, tweeted: "On the right side of history. Kudos, Europe."

A White House spokesperson said that the US government's "position has not changed."

"Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States," White House spokesperson Ned Price told Motherboard in an email. "As such, he should be returned to the US as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process."

Sophie In 't Veld, a Dutch member of the EU Parliament, said that the resolution won't immediately change Snowden's situation.

"I'm afraid it won't change very much in the short term."

"I'm afraid it won't change very much in the short term," she told Motherboard in a phone interview, adding that only countries themselves can grant him asylum or residence.

Still, she added, this is a "a very strong political signal" and she said she hoped some governments will feel "encouraged" to give Snowden protection.

The European Parliament also voted 342 to 274 to denounce that European citizens' civil liberties are still in danger, and to push the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, to "immediately take the necessary measures to ensure that all personal data transferred to the US are subject to an effective level of protection that is essentially equivalent to that guaranteed in the EU."

This is also intended to push member states such as France to rethink their new surveillance laws, and push them to act against mass surveillance.

In 't Veld, who voted in favor of the resolution, criticized European states "because although they are very vocal in their outrage of NSA eavesdropping programs, in effect they're not doing anything to change it. They're cooperating with American intelligence services and they're actually doing the same thing."