(Photo of Edward Snowden made available by The Guardian)
The man behind one of the most significant information leaks in U.S. political history has come forward.
His name is Edward Snowden and today he was revealed as the whistleblower who leaked details about phone and internet spying by the U.S. government.
The first leak came last week, which revealed that U.S. authorities had collected the private phone records of millions of Americans, without them knowing.
Then, it came to light that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has a surveillance program called 'Prism'.
Under that program, authorities are said to be able to collect emails, web chats, photos, videos and documents directly from the servers of major U.S. internet companies.
Those firms reportedly include Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo - although all the companies deny giving the U.S. government access to their servers.
The U.S. government says it uses Prism to track foreign nationals suspected of terrorism or spying.
Today, the Guardian newspaper - which first broke the story - said Snowden, a former CIA employees, asked to be revealed as the source of the leak.
He told the paper that the extent of U.S. spying was "horrifying", saying he came forward to "protect basic liberties for people around the world" and that he had an "obligation to help free people from oppression".
He went on to say...
"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting."
"If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards."
"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
"We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place."
The U.S. National Security Agency Data Center In Utah
Snowden said he has now left the U.S. and has gone to Hong Kong, although it's not clear exactly where he is.
He is said to be an ex-CIA technical assistant, now working for Booz Allen Hamilton - a defence contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency.
Snowden told the paper he doesn't think he's done anything wrong and is content with what he's done.
"We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me."
The case is now said to be in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department and is being treated as a criminal matter.
Snowden said he knows he could go to jail, saying "if they want to get you, over time they will."
U.S. President Barack Obama has defended the government's actions, saying they're a "modest encroachment" on privacy, but needed to keep America safe.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program is about," he said, pointing out that Congress has approved it all.
The Prism program came into force under President George W. Bush and was renewed last year by Obama.
via The BBC