The European Union on Thursday narrowly voted to recommend that its 28 member nations drop criminal charges against Edward Snowden and protect him from U.S. extradition. The former defense contractor who leaked sensitive data on the NSA's phone surveillance program in 2013 called the vote a "game-changer." Photo by Stephen Shaver / UPI | License Photo
BRUSSELS, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- American whistleblower Edward Snowden might soon set up permanent residence in any one of nearly 30 European countries after their governing body passed a resolution Thursday recommending tht the former defense contractor be given asylum.
The European Union voted 285-281 in support of the measure, which asks EU member nations to either drop charges or cease from prosecuting the 32-year-old American with crimes related to his massive leak of classified information two years ago.
The EU asked member states to protect the person it called a "whistle-blower and international human rights defender."
After the union's vote, Snowden applauded the support.
"Hearing reports EU just voted 285-281, overcoming huge pressure, to cancel all charges against me and prevent extradition. Game-changer," Snowden tweeted Thursday.
"This is not a blow against the U.S. government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward," a subsequent tweet said.
Snowden faces prosecution in the United States for leaking data on the National Security Agency's widespread phone surveillance program. Thursday's vote doesn't allow the EU to dictate law, but it formally recommends that its 28 member states refrain from prosecuting him and shield him from U.S. extradition.
Thursday's vote means Snowden could potentially live in any of the EU member states that adopt the resolution. He has been reluctant to return to the United States, though, where he would be arrested and prosecuted.
Now living in Moscow, Snowden said earlier this month he would be willing to serve some prison time upon returning to the United States.
"We welcome today's decision of the European Parliament recognizing Edward Snowden as a human rights defender and calling upon member states to grant him protection from prosecution," Wolfgang Kaleck, a Snowden attorney, told the Daily Dot in an email. "It is an overdue step and we urge the member States to act now to implement the resolution."
The Obama administration responded to Thursday's vote by saying nothing has changed on its end.
"Our position has not changed," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. "Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process."