Europe just voted to drop criminal charges against Edward Snowden and offer him asylum

The European Parliament voted on Thursday to drop all criminal charges against Edward Snowden and offer him asylum and protection from rendition from third parties.

MEPs voted 285 - 281 to recognise the NSA whistleblower's status as a "human rights defender" and asked member states to grant him protection from extradition to the US, where he is wanted under several Espionage Act charges.

In the resolution that was passed, MEPs said "too little has been done to safeguard citizens' fundamental rights following revelations of electronic mass surveillance" the whistleblower alerted the world to after exposing the extent of the National Security Agency's spying programmes in 2013.

The EU Commission is also being urged to ensure that all data transfers to the US are subject to an "effective level of protection" and examine concerns over surveillance laws in several EU countries, such as reported co-operation by Germany intelligence agency BND with the NSA.

It is up to individual member states to implement the resolution.

Snowden himself seems to be overwhelmed by the development. Calling it a "game-changer", he tweeted:

The 31-year-old has been living in exile in Russia for two years and is still waiting on asylum decisions from 21 different countries.

Snowden's lawyers have said in the past that the whistleblower is longing to return home since fleeing the US.

Barack Obama's administration, however, has showed no sign of dropping the charges against him.

The USA Freedom Act passed by the Senate earlier this year quietly ended NSA collection of meta data and calling records in the most significant overhaul to surveillance policy since 1978.

In 2014 both independent and White House-funded studies analysed hundreds of terror cases and concluded that the NSA collection of phone records had had no discernible impact in foiling terror plots.

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