In the weeks before Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama met at the Sunny-lands resort in California in June 2013, the US administration had spared little effort in portraying China as a villain in cyberspace.
The revelation made by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden just days before the Sunnylands meeting, however, exposed the real villain to the world. It showed that whatever other countries had done in cyber surveillance was nothing compared with the gigantic scale of operations launched by the NSA, often labeled "No Such Agency".
For the rest of the world, Snowden is a whistleblower and a hero because he revealed the US government's secret surveillance programs across the world, whose targets included leaders of countries that are US allies. Such spying, which violates people's privacy and civil rights, often involves willing and unwilling collaboration with several major US tech companies.
In the US, the debate on whether Snowden is a hero, patriot or traitor is still a divisive issue even though his revelation compelled the US administration and Congress to correct so many mistakes. For example, the panel appointed by Obama to review NSA surveillance programs made dozens of reform recommendations. A federal appeals court ruled NSA's call-tracking program exposed by Snowden illegal. And the USA Freedom Act passed by the US Congress ended the bulk collection of phone data by the government.
In the past week, Snowden has again been in the spotlight. Oliver Stone's movie Snowden hit US theaters on Sept 16. And Snowden has sought Obama's pardon, arguing that his leak of NSA surveillance programs was "not only morally right" but also "left citizens bet-ter off".
On Sept 14, the American Civil Liberties Union launched the Pardon Snowden campaign to urge Obama to pardon Snowden. The campaign was joined by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and more than 100 legal scholars, former national security officials, business leaders, human rights activists and artists.
Most of the people who believe that Snowden is a traitor and should spend the rest of his life in prison argue that he broke an oath and put the US national security in danger. It is true that Snowden breached the trust placed in him, but he did so after finding out the US administration was involved in serious wrong doings, which is a much more serious crime than people realize. Even former US attorney general Eric Holder admitted that "we can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made".
However, the US House Intelligence Committee unanimously signed a letter to Obama on Sept 15 not to pardon Snow-den.
Obama once said the debate triggered by Snowden "will make us stronger", yet it does not look like he will have the good sense to pardon Snowden before leaving the White House in January.
Both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are against granting Snowden a pardon. The only 2016 presidential candidate who supported Snowden is no longer in the race. Democrat Bernie Sanders said, "the information dis-closed by Snowden has allowed Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights".
For the third year in a row, Snowden has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Whoever wins the prize on Oct 7, it is clear that Snowden has done the world a great service, so much more than Obama had when he was awarded the prize in 2009.