The European Parliament has voted to grant Edward Snowden protection from prosecution – a move the NSA super-leaker hailed as a "game changer."
In an unexpected vote, MEPs narrowly approved a measure that calls on EU member states 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 285-281 vote came amid a long response from Parliamentarians irritated with the European Commission for not having done enough to respond to the revelations of US mass surveillance first revealed by Snowden back in 2013.
Although it represents a bold statement of support to the former NSA staffer, it does not mean he should pack his bags and catch the next flight to Berlin: the vote is not in any way binding on EU member states, and any European country that welcomed Snowden in would find itself under enormous pressure from the United States government to hand him over. The US has long-standing extradition treaties with all European countries.
Nevertheless, Snowden, who fled America and is holed up in Russia with his girlfriend, took to Twitter to express his surprise and happiness at the vote.
"Hearing reports EU just voted 285-281, overcoming huge pressure, to cancel all charges against me and prevent extradition. Game-changer," he said, later adding: "This is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward."
The vote was just one part of a longer voting session in which MEPs also voted 342-274 to analyze how the EU has responded to its recommendations from 2014 over mass surveillance, noting that it currently believes it has been "highly inadequate" so far.
They also applauded the EU Court of Justice's decision over Safe Harbor, noting that it "confirmed the long-standing position of Parliament regarding the lack of an adequate level of protection under this instrument."
And MEPs reissued the call to suspend the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement that the EU has with the US – something that the EU Justice minister said would continue regardless of the Safe Harbor decision earlier this week. ®