One year after his controversial leak of documents that exposed the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, Edward Snowden is asking supporters to continue the fight against mass surveillance.
"I didn't do anything special," Snowden said during an interview conducted via video conference at the Personal Democracy Forum on Thursday. "What I did is a civic duty."
In a letter distributed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden said he did so "to spark the very discussion the U.S. government didn’t want the American people to have."
"The government right now can easily monitor whom you call, whom you associate with, what you read, what you buy, and where you go online and offline, and they do it to all of us, all the time," Snowden wrote in the letter, which was emailed to supporters by the ACLU Action committee.
Last year, the former NSA contractor fled the United States to Hong Kong and then Russia, where he was granted asylum, to avoid criminal charges. He was accused of espionage, among other things, for disclosing secret internet and phone surveillance programs in June 2013 that were being conducted by the NSA.
Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU's Project on Speech, Privacy and Technology, has been serving as one of Snowden’s legal advisers.
"If he were here in the United States he would be in a solitary cell," Wizner said in March.
Snowden says he worried that "the risks I took to get the public the information it deserved would be met with collective indifference." But "one year later, I realize that my fears were unwarranted."
According to a survey released Sunday by NBC News, 34 percent of respondents said they disagreed with Snowden's decision to flee, while 24 percent said they supported him. But among 18-to-34-year-old respondents, 32 percent said they supported Snowden, while 20 percent disapproved.
A lawyer for Snowden told a German radio station on Thursday that he expects his client's asylum in Russia will be extended.
In an interview with NBC's Brian Williams last week, Snowden said he wants to return to the United States, where he is wanted for espionage, but is afraid he would not get a fair trial.
“I don't think there's ever been any question that I'd like to go home," he said. "I mean, I've from day one said that I'm doing this to serve my country.”
Snowden signed the ACLU letter "Edward Snowden, American."
"Some say I’m a man without a country," he wrote. "But that’s not true. America has always been an ideal, and though I’m far away, I’ve never felt as connected to it as I do now, watching the necessary debate unfold as I hoped it would. America, after all, is always at our fingertips; that is the power of the Internet."
"We're not going to turn the page overnight," Snowden added at the forum. "But the fact that we are talking about this, the fact that you are talking about this ... it's so encouraging."