Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has described Edward Snowden as a “hero”, declaring that “history will judge him very favourably.”
Wales was speaking in an interview for Al Jazeera’s Head to Head show at the Oxford Union when he described the revelations regarding NSA spying as “incredibly damaging and embarrassing to the US”.
"It makes it very difficult for someone like me to go out as I do speak to people in authoritarian countries and say: You shouldn’t be spying on activists, you shouldn’t be censoring the internet, when we [in the US] are complicit in these acts of extraordinary intrusion into people’s personal lives,” said Wales.
“What is more important is that we have a public debate that we didn’t have before we started doing this. I think if you put it to a vote to the general public, they would have never approved this sweeping surveillance programme, this is something that was rejected decades before when we started thinking about phone tapping. It’s definitely time for a major re-evaluation.”
These revelations began in May this year when documents attained by Snowden during his time working as a contractor for the NSA were leaked to the press. Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year on 1 August and is currently wanted by the US authorities to answer charges of espionage.
Wales praised Snowden for being “very careful in the materials he has leaked”: “They have been in the abstract, he has never leaked anything that would put any particular agents at risk and so forth. He has exposed what I believe to be, very likely to be judged, criminal wrongdoing, lying to Congress and certainly a shock and an affront, in America, an affront to the 4th amendment.”
Al Jazeera also questioned Wales on whether he believed the accusations made against software giant Microsoft, that it had collaborated with the US authorities. Wales replied that it was “completely outrageous, but only if true.”
Files released by Snowden suggest that Microsoft worked with the FBI to allow the easier access to its cloud storage service SkyDrive and that the company gave authorities the tools necessary to snoop on email service Outlook.com even before the site was launched.
“We haven’t established fully if this is true,” said Wales. “I trust that in coming months and years security testers will find ways to confirm it or disconfirm it. I think it is time for the government to confirm it or disconfirm it. It’s outrageous, it’s absolutely outrageous.”
Despite this, Wales still described the United States as “a jurisdiction for things like freedom of speech, safeguards for internet companies”.
He said that Wikipedia had considered moving its server outside of the US but said that so far the company hadn’t “seen anything that would make us want to leave."