Gimme Shelter: International Political Asylum in the Information Age

By ord, Jacob | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Gimme Shelter: International Political Asylum in the Information Age


ord, Jacob, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Abstract

On June 5, 2013, an article in the Guardian revealed highly classified information about surveillance operations being performed by the United States National Security Administration (NSA). The source of this information was a former NSA contractor named Edward Snowden. After arriving in Moscow on June 23, Snowden spent the next forty days in the transit area of Sheremetyevo International Airport in a bizarre state of geopolitical purgatory. Eventually, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum for one year, followed by a three-year residency permit. This Note uses Snowden's circumstance to consider the current state of international political asylum within the context of domestic whistleblower regimes. The technological progress of the early twenty-first century has enabled not only previously unimaginable intelligence-gathering capabilities but also the capacity to instantaneously alert countries throughout the world to the existence of such activities. This Note addresses the resulting tension by recommending a range of preventative measures and suggesting an evolution in domestic applications of international asylum law.

Table of Contents

  I. The Snowden Affair
 II. General Asylum Background
     A. Historical Origins of Asylum
     B. In Pursuit of Neutral Language
III. Explanation of Current Law
     A. Modern International Asylum Law
     B. Domestic Laws and Whistleblower
        Protections
        1. The United States
        2. Russia
        3. Iceland
 IV. Remedies for Tension Between Sovereignty and
     Transparency
     A. Preventative Measures
        1. Diplomatic Disarmament
        2. Unilateral Transparency
     B. Damage Control
     C. Application to Snowden

I. The Snowden Affair

On June 5, 2013, the Guardian published an article under the headline, "NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily." (1) The article contained a copy of a classified order from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court). (2) The order required telecommunications company Verizon Wireless to provide the National Security Agency (NSA) certain metadata from all of its customers' domestic phone calls from April 25, 2013, through July 19, 2013. (3) In the months following this disclosure, numerous articles revealing further highly classified information about the surveillance apparatus of the United States would appear in the Guardian, Der Spiegel, (4) Le Monde, (5) and other media outlets. (6)

The source of the classified national security information was a former NSA contractor named Edward Snowden. (7) On June 5, at the time the initial article was published, Snowden had already positioned himself beyond the direct reach of American authorities. (8) On June 9, from a Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden revealed his identity as the source behind the disclosure. (9) On June 21, the Washington Post reported that U.S. federal prosecutors had brought three criminal charges against Snowden: two charges under the 1917 Espionage Act and one charge of theft. (10) Fearing extradition, Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23. (11) For the next forty days, Snowden stayed in the transit area of Sheremetyevo International Airport in a bizarre state of geopolitical purgatory. (12)

During his time in both Hong Kong and the Sheremetyevo Airport, Snowden submitted applications for asylum to over twenty countries. (13) Snowden's asylum requests were largely unsuccessful. Countries either denied his claim outright or refused to consider his application on procedural grounds. (14) After June 21, the United States suspended the validity of Snowden's travel documents. (15) Although Venezuela and Nicaragua offered Snowden asylum, (16) this suspension left him unable to arrange travel to either country. Eventually, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum for one year on August 1, 2013. (17) Russia's decision sparked disappointment and anger from the United States, (18) and further strained diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were already upset by the surveillance disclosures. …

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