In an "extraordinary" move, the European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday encouraging member states to protect Edward Snowden, and offer the former NSA contractor asylum in Europe.
A vote to recognise Snowden's status as a "human rights defender" was narrowly passed by 285 – 281, with members asked to ensure the whistleblower does not suffer rendition to his homeland where he faces a raft of espionage charges.
MEPs argued that "too little has been done to safeguard citizens' fundamental rights following revelations of electronic mass surveillance." However, the symbolic vote is unlikely to help Snowden leave Russia, where he currently lives awaiting asylum decisions from 21 different countries.
In 2013, Snowden revealed the extent the surveillance operations of Britain and the United States by leaking documents to the Guardian newspaper. He currently faces extradition to the US should he leave Moscow and take a connecting flight via any of the 28 EU member nations.
Snowden reacted to the news with a series of tweets:
Earlier this year, the Obama administration dismissed called for the charges against Snowden to be dropped. “The fact is that Mr Snowden committed very serious crimes, and the U.S. government and the Department of Justice believe that he should face them,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told the Guardian.
“That’s why we believe that Mr Snowden should return to the United States, where he will face due process and have the opportunity to make that case in a court of law,” he added. The whistleblower would face 30 years in prison should he return to the US and be found guilty.